Building Relational Capital Through Thank You Letters

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The holidays are upon us. The end of the year is near, invoking reflection on the year that has passed and hopes for the year to come. We have survived the strangest of times over the last two years. Considering all we have lost, feeling grateful can feel like a struggle. But it is essential to acknowledge any silver linings, as this will help us move forward with hope and gratitude.

Hand-written thank you letters are a great way to let others know that something they have done has positively impacted you. And because it takes more effort than a text or phone call – the is amplifies its meaningfulness. In the not-so-distant past, this was customary and expected. However, with the evolution of communication technologies, we have moved away from this, with older generations still adhering to what was once considered the standard of etiquette.

There is something so special about a personalized, handwritten letter of thanks. Especially in these challenging times, the benefit is two-fold, to both the writer and the receiver. Whether it’s to express gratitude to your employees, show appreciation for a letter of recommendation, or say thanks to a family member or friend, a sincere thank-you note is always appreciated. Writing thoughtful thank-you letters is an important skill that will help you to foster relationships with employees, clients, family, and friends. No matter the purpose of your thank-you letter, there are specific components you should always include. The following instructions will have you well on your way to fostering deeper relationships, professionally and personally.

 Start With a Proper Greeting

The nature of the relationship will dictate how your letter should be started. When writing to someone with whom you have a close relationship, using their first name or a nickname would be entirely appropriate. With a business relation, especially one you do not know personally you would want to be more formal. Beginning with the proper salutation, such as, “Dear Jane” or “Dear Mr. Smith” has you off to a great start.


The tone of your letter should match the relationship you have with the receiver. Letters to other professionals should remain more formal, and letters to family or friends can convey a lighter and even humorous tone. Be cautious of using humor in letters to other professionals, especially people unknown to you, unless you are sure how it will be received. There is too much room for error here and creating offense is the opposite reaction you are going for. Getting the tone correct for the receiver may take a little effort, and editing. But ultimately it will result in your meaningful message being received as intended.

Be Specific

Make sure that the purpose of your letter is stated early on and that it is clear and concise. It may seem obvious, but make sure you include the words “thank you” and detail what you are thanking them for. This should be accomplished in the first few sentences, to ensure the person knows the purpose of your letter. This does not need to be a long, meandering message of accolades – a short and sweet note can be just as meaningful.

Make It Personal

If you can add a bit of detail, it will take your note to the next level. Give some specifics about what you are thanking them for and what their act or gift meant to you. Go into detail so the person understands what you appreciate and why. For example, if you are saying thank you to an employee, you could give examples of some of their recent exemplary work. After an interview, mention something that stood out as impressive or noteworthy. Maybe it is a connection with your interviewer or something about the company. When thanking family or friends, let them know just how much they mean to you and their effect on your life. Often these things go unsaid because it is assumed that they are known, but reiterating is always helpful for everyone.

The Ending

When coming to the end of your thank you letter, state your thanks again, and make sure to sign off with an appropriate closing. These will differ based on your relationship with the person you are writing to. An email is undoubtedly an acceptable delivery method, but please don’t discount the value a handwritten letter offers the receiver. You may find it easier to acquire a physical address of someone that you are not personally familiar with than to find their email address. And this will be to your benefit, as it will provide much more impact. You are pretty much guaranteed that the person will receive it.

We are all connected so intricately, which has never been more apparent, but strangely, at the same time feel so disconnected. Maintaining and fostering our professional and personal relationships will help us feel more connected to the communities we've been missing. The relational capital lost through the last couple of years will take time and effort to re-build. This is certainly one tiny effort that you can make towards that goal. We may not get back to the normal we once knew, but it does not mean that all is lost. We can have a hand in determining our new normal.

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