How to say thank you meaningfully

I wanted to let you know I really appreciate how much you’ve been working on the things we spoke about. Getting challenging feedback is never easy, and many people get defensive and never do anything about it.

How to Write a Meaningful Thank You Note

Many of us fear expressing our thanks to others. We might worry that our efforts will be misinterpreted or make the person on the receiving end uncomfortable. Or we might struggle to find the right words to express how we feel. Here’s how to do it right.

We all want to be appreciated. Whether you’ve accepted a task while your plate is already full, worked through weekends to get a project off the ground, or simply been there for a work friend when they needed your support, an acknowledgement or “thank you” can go a long way in making us feel good about the efforts we put in — and the research supports this.

A recent study from McKinsey & Company found that although most employers believe that the large number of people who quit their jobs this year were looking for better compensation, most were leaving because they didn’t feel valued and lacked a sense of belonging at work. Another study found that receiving more frequent appreciation from our colleagues and managers doesn’t only make us feel respected, it’s also linked to better performance.

The many benefits of gratitude may be explained by the feel-good chemicals released in our brains upon expressing or receiving it. Dopamine and serotonin are two neurotransmitters responsible for immediately uplifting our moods. When we give or experience thanks daily, we strengthen these neural pathways.

The problem is that many of us hold fears around expressing our thanks to others. I’ve seen this time and again through my work training leaders in the art of recognition and engagement. Some people want to express appreciation more often but fear that their efforts will be misinterpreted or make the person on the receiving end uncomfortable. Others struggle to find the right words to express what they feel, or they worry that their remarks might be seen as kissing up or as masking a hidden agenda.

While these fears are valid, they can also stop us from experiencing the long list of rewards gratitude has to offer. One method I’ve found useful for overcoming them is starting small, with a simple thank-you note. There are a few simple rules you can follow to make sure your efforts are taken to heart (and not negatively misinterpreted).

Rules for Crafting a Meaningful Thank-You Note

Keep it genuine.

The goal of expressing appreciation is to let someone know how their actions have impacted you and/or others. If you have any other agenda, your message will not be authentic. Still, you need to be thoughtful with your words if you want to come across as genuine.

Set the context.

If you’ve ever been surprised by a compliment, then you know that it can feel good — and simultaneously jarring. This is because you are trying to take in the other person’s words while also interpreting their intentions, especially if the compliment arrives late or catches you off guard.

Share what you appreciate and why.

Next, focus on the impact their actions have had on you. It may be as simple as bringing a smile to your face on a tough day or as big as supporting you through a difficult period. Be specific, and explain both what you appreciate and why. In doing so, you’ll help the other person understand the reason you feel the way you do.

As you know, last year was extremely hard for me. I was trying to work from home while taking care of my parents at the same time. No matter how busy we were, you made time in every meeting to ask about my parents and check in on how I was doing.

The other day I was feeling completely overwhelmed and alone trying to get the report done for the client meeting. I know it may have been simple for you, but when you stepped up and offered to help format the final document, it made a huge difference.

I always ask for feedback, but people rarely say anything more than, “You did great.” Your feedback helped me rethink my presentation and gave me concrete things to work on. That’s exactly what I needed to improve.

Close the message.

Send it.

E-mails get lost and handwritten cards get saved. Therefore, write your message on a piece of paper, post-it note, or card and give it directly to the person. If you’re at work, leave it on their desk or in their “mailbox.” If you’re not going to see them for a while, snap a photo of your message and send the person the picture, or better still, mail the card to them.

Sending a hand-written message is important because it gives the other person the opportunity to take in your appreciation without feeling the pressure to respond on the spot. If you know the person can feel uncomfortable with praise, remove the pressure to reply by saying something like, “Please don’t feel compelled to respond. I just wanted to let you know I appreciate working with you.”

Tips for Writing Better Thank You Messages

If you’re struggling to find the right words to show your appreciation, here are a few suggestions on how to say thank you in a meaningful way. The right approach can make a huge difference. Whether you start writing off the top of your head or take notes first, it’s helpful to check in on each of the following factors. Just what it will do for your writing will vary for each individual, but with a little effort, your recipients will hear your message as it was intended.

1. Say It From the Heart

2. Acknowledge What They Did

When you say thank you, take a moment to acknowledge what your friend did that you’re grateful for. For example, “Thank you so much for taking the time to help me with my project.” This shows that you were paying attention and noticed what they did – and that you appreciate it.

3. Explain How Their Actions Helped You

In addition to acknowledging what your friend did, take a moment to explain how their actions helped you. For example, “Thank you for your help – I was really struggling and you made it so much easier for me.” This helps the other individual feel good about what they did, and it also reinforces the idea that expressing gratitude is a two-way street.

4. Say It in Person

Thank you hand illustrated on card

5. Send a Handwritten Thank You Note

If you can’t say thank you face to face, the next best thing is to send a handwritten note. This shows that you took the time to sit down and write out your thoughts, and it’s a more personal way to express your gratitude than an email message or a text.

A handwritten card full of warm wishes allows you to express gratitude in meaningful ways. Your recipient will appreciate the effort you put in. Simultaneously, you’ll honor them by writing to them as an individual.

6. Be Specific

When you write a thank you note, be specific about what you’re grateful for. This helps the other person know that their actions really made a difference in your life. For example, you might say, “Thank you for picking up my dry cleaning – I really appreciate it!” or “Thanks so much for spending time with our new baby at our recent baby shower!” Your thank you card should make it clear that you know precisely what the recipient of your thank you note did.

7. Send Along a Thoughtful Gift

Maybe you’re a person of few words and you prefer to let your generosity express how grateful you are. In that case, you could send your recipient a wonderful gift. It doesn’t have to be expensive but it should be personalized to the recipient. Give them something they like and then mention in a short accompanying mention why your sending the gift. You can write a short thank you note, which is sure to be appreciated.

8. Offer to Return the Favor

One way to show your appreciation is to offer to return the favor. For example, “Thank you for your help – I’d be happy to give you a hand the next time you need help!” This shows that you’re willing to reciprocate acts of kindness, and it also helps build a stronger relationship with the other person.

9. Say it Publicly

If you want to show your appreciation on a larger scale, say thank you publicly. This can be done in a number of ways, such as through social media, a blog post, or even an interview. Publicly thanking someone is a great way to let them know that their actions meant a lot to you.

10. Pay it Forward

Finally, one of the best ways to say thank you meaningfully is to pay it forward. This means doing something nice for a third person in return for the favor the first person paid you. It’s a way of continuing the cycle of gratefulness. For example, “Thank you for your help – I’d like to pay it forward by buying this other person a cup of coffee.” Then, if that person pays it forward the cycle will continue.

No matter how you choose to say it, expressing your appreciation is always a good idea. By taking the time to say thank you in a meaningful way, you can show the other person that their actions made a difference in your life.

A card that reads

Professional Relationships

It’s good business to send a handwritten thank-you note for the courtesy of an interview, for referrals or opportunities, for above-and-beyond work done for you, for mentoring and many other professional situations. After an interview, a gracious thank-you card can distinguish one candidate from another. More generally, it makes the sender memorable, leaving a positive impression and paving the way for a lasting business relationship.

  • “Thank you so much for inviting me to interview for your open account specialist position. I truly appreciate the time you took to talk with me about this opportunity and the company. I enjoyed learning more about your work group and how I might fit into that team. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any follow-up questions you might have. I hope to talk with you again soon.”
  • “Thank you for your invaluable mentoring these past three months. I’ve had fun getting to know you better, and I’ve learned so much from talking with you and seeing how you work. You are amazing at what you do! I’m grateful to have had the chance to work with you so closely.”
  • “I can’t thank you enough for advising me to send my résumé to your colleague Dana Evans. I now have an interview scheduled with her next week to discuss some freelance work, and I’m really excited about the assignment she’s describing. It was very kind of you to refer me to her. I hope I can find a way to return the favor soon!”

Writing tip: In business communication, it’s all about relationships—establishing them, keeping them strong and making them work for you. Sending a written thank-you is a standout way to do all those things!


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