I received a thank-you note in the mail the other day. A card in a smaller envelope was sure to catch my attention. Handwritten, too. Amidst all the junk and bills, that note promised something positive, a brief respite from the otherwise tedious mail. “What a pleasure,” I thought. So, I jumped to open it.
When I opened the card and began reading the message, I was struck by the uniformity of the handwriting. Every “e” was shaped exactly like every other “e.” Every “s” looked exactly like every other “s.” I started focusing on how similar everything seemed instead of on the message. In every instance, each individual letter was a perfect duplicate, each time it was used.
That’s when it struck me. The note wasn’t handwritten. It was computer generated. It was perfect. No one writes perfectly. Not like that.
I stress how important thank-you notes are in building strong positive relationships. Handwriting connotes a personal touch that says to the recipient, “You are important to me—important enough that I’m taking the time to handwrite this note to you. I appreciate you.” By forming the letters on the page you are putting something of yourself into the note. Through your writing you touch the recipient; you build the relationship.
As I looked at the thank-you note, I felt like I was being fooled. The sender clearly wanted to appear as if he had written the note, when in fact he hadn’t. He wanted me to believe that he appreciated my business so much that he took the time out of his busy day to write me a note.
Great, except for the subterfuge revealed by the computer-generated writing—and the assumption that I’m not going to notice. That, in a nutshell, is the problem with these fake handwritten notes. The perfectly formed, uniform writing that is meant to look hand-done lacks sincerity, and sincerity matters in business (as well as in your personal life.) When you are sincere, people will believe in you. They will have confidence in you. That confidence builds trust. Business is built on trust. It takes time to build trust. But it takes only one act to lose trust, and gaining it back again can be very hard.
Now, will that computer-generated “handwritten” note cause me to lose trust in the writer? Probably not. But it is one little chink in our relationship. Something that might give me pause to wonder about this person’s sincerity. If someone else, a competitor for instance, sent a note that really was handwritten, then who stands out?
My advice: Hand write the note. If your handwriting is poor, word process the note and then include a short, handwritten message at the bottom of the note, and sign it.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is Senior Vice President and Partner of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.