(Photos: Michael Manning)
The end of Summer tends to be a bittersweet time. For many of my readers in the Mid-West and Northeastern United States, this transition usually signals shorter days, and the cooler temperatures of Autumn. In New Hampshire, the trees present a magnificent display of color that is breathtaking. In Pennsylvania, hot air balloonists are facing the end of their annual flight season (from late October into the first two weeks of November). In the Great Lakes, avid sailors finish out their journeys for the year, and before we all know it, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas will be upon us. No matter what season we happen to be celebrating, the art of writing and mailing a long-hand letter is fast becoming a lost art.
Yesterday, I met with a colleague who has been exploring a new career. After asking whom he had met with recently, I proceeded to ask if he had mailed long-hand letters to each person that took a meeting with him. He was pleasantly surprised at my question, and made a note in his portfolio pad to "mail letters". He was genuinely surprised to learn that this is an "old school" practice I continue to this day.
If you take a meeting with me, in person, watch your mail box and expect the unexpected! A blank card in a colorful envelope will be arriving to your address. In the letter, I'll thank you, with specificity, for taking time out of your schedule to visit with me. I'll also mention what we discussed and how much I appreciated it. Each letter is different and tailored to a specific person and subject that was under discussion.
We may have known a mutual colleague who recently passed away, and I can promise you that if this is the case, poignant memories will be shared along with regrets. If we are discussing a business project, I'll likely bring up how much it meant to me that a new approach was shared to broaden my horizons. Nothing is more genuine than a "back to the basics" hand written letter. Allow me to cite an example that was a pleasant surprise years ago.
-I have two letters in my correspondence file that were dictated into a small tape recorder, typed up and mailed to me from Sir Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Group, comprising more than 400 companies. Despite the fact that Richard is busier than any executive on the planet, I'm still amazed that he finds time in his schedule to dictate a meaningful letter! While this example may cause some shame among laggards--as it should--it is a fine example of going "from ordinary to extraordinary".
By comparison, this past year, a casual change was announced in social media about using brevity with e-mails. In case you missed it, brevity includes using only the first letter of the recipient's first name. Salutations are considered outdated. Along these new guidelines, an e-mail sent to me from my friend Jamie, might read something like this:
"M: Enjoyed the strategy you shared at lunch today. Let's meet again in two weeks!
It is not with any exaggeration when I inform you that only last year, Jamie would have written her same e-mail message this way:
"Dear Michael: I enjoyed meeting you for lunch today at The Herb Box. Your strategy for responding positively to the criticism I received from John gave me a totally new perspective. I'd like to follow up with you after the next production meeting. Next Wednesday after 2 p.m. or Thursday after 10 a.m. is best for me. What works for you? Please let me know and thanks again.
-Now, be honest. Which of these two messages do you like better?
As one of the last hold outs when it comes to heavy text messaging, I keep a box of high quality blank cards and matching envelopes (with peel and stick postage) in my car. If Jamie had treated for lunch, I'd write my message in long hand. Then I'd drive past the Post Office on the way home later that afternoon to mail it (at the drive thru). Following up on this, let's suppose that our lunch occurred on a Monday. By Wednesday, I could reasonably assume that Jamie would go to her mail box and be pleasantly surprised to open my short note written in long hand. Why? Because people are feeling, by nature. A letter written in long hand is a great way to validate another person, their time, and contribution to whatever topic was on the table that day for discussion. It says "I value you, and I heard what you had to say". This is easily worth the five minutes I spent creating the note. From my experience, I can tell you that my professional relationships have always been enhanced over the years by this practice. The only thing that has changed with snail mailing is "when" one chooses to send a note.
Years ago, it was customary to mail a personalized note after a mere phone conversation. Today, this rare art form is reserved only for those who brave souls who take the time to meet with me. One could argue that this practice constitutes an example of classic behavioral psychology with its pattern of stimulus-response-reward. In the reverse, however, if I take the time to accept a meeting with you and provide my feedback without any expectations (beyond helping you become successful in an endeavor), imagine my surprise at receiving a cordial note in my mail box! I begin to associate that good feeling with you, whether we are friends or colleagues. This gesture is valued for building relationships with trust.
Whether you are e-mailing or snail mailing, this much is certain. If you want to be different and "stand out from the ordinary to become extraordinary", just take a few extra minutes to create a unique message that validates the other person and the gift of their time. Your interpersonal relationships will be stronger, and you'll feel positive about how well you treated someone who wasn't expecting anything above and beyond lunch. Ironically, we could all use more of this good feeling today--going "above and beyond" what stands for "ordinary". What are your thoughts?