Growing up my mother was adamant about a few things. We had to make our bed daily. Bring our dishes to the sink. And always, always send a thank you note.
My relationship with the first two have been hit and miss over the years. But I always send a thank you note. A thank you call. A thank you text. A thank you Instagram. (And I’m always aware of who sends me one and who doesn’t.) It’s the etiquette version of the period at the end of the sentence.
In hindsight, it was one of the more useful things my mother taught me. And arguably the only one that stayed with me (says a person who finds boiling eggs challenging).
That’s because what we are really talking about, even more than gratitude (which, as a person who rarely turns on the oven, is always extra applicable if the thank you note is in any way dinner related) is acknowledgment. It’s attribution. I see you. I see what you did. (Granted, this also sounds like the climax of a Law & Order episode, but as with so much in life, the truth can be applied in many ways!).
It is the easiest thing in the world to do. Or as Lyz Lenz said to me the other day: “It takes nothing, and means everything.” (See what I did there?)
The absence of it can be destructive, though. And not just to personal relationships, where a simple thank you can sow the seeds of goodwill in ways hard to foresee. But in professional ways, also hard to foresee! Oh, you’re so happy people think you came up with this idea? Just wait till all your former interns are running your entire industry. They will remember.
When I was coming up as a journalist, linking to online stories was considered beneath the purview of such places as The New York Times (though they were hardly alone in this) who would routinely run news stories that had been broken by up-and-coming journalists working at websites, or, egads, a blog, and “neglect” to credit. Even now, you sometimes have to scroll down a story a few grafts to discover the news being breathlessly reported on was actually “reported first”
The link out, or shout out, is of course the internet’s way of acknowledging. Of giving credit. Of creating a blueprint. The absence of it is a power move, one that, prior to the era of social media when social media breadcrumbs made things easier to track, was so successful we live in a world with very little sense of who is responsible, good or bad, for where we are.
In the workplace, this manifests as climbing up a ladder someone else built, and then pulling it up behind you so no one can follow. Research — and most of history, for that matter — shows that in the workplace, women are given less credit when working with men. There is a reason we believe that white men, and in some cases, white women, are responsible for so much more than they actually are.
This is all a long way from sending someone a quick note saying thank you for cooking me dinner, taking me to the show, sharing your brain with me. But as with everything start small. I make a killer boiled egg. Someday I might graduate to roasting a turkey. Probably not, but my thank you note will definitely be excellent.