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The Two Most Powerful Words In Every Culture

By Jim Lukaszewski
Also known as “America’s Crisis Guru,” Jim Lukaszewski is an experienced author, speaker and expert on crisis communications and public affairs. This piece was originally published in Jim’s newsletter, “Jim’s Wisdom,” in January 2023. 

If you want to be remembered, remember others, first. Thank, applaud, congratulate, recognize, or honor one person (or more) every single day. Make it positive, personal, write it out, do it now.

I was 26 years old and a junior manager in a Minneapolis retail music store. The way they went about teaching management was to put junior managers in charge of something real. One of my first “real” management jobs was to oversee stereo components sales in the company’s downtown store. I had a pretty tough, old-fashioned supervisor who had only a few requirements for my first month as manager: conduct a sales meeting on Tuesdays at 7:30 AM, present a new selling idea to the group of five, and write at least one complimentary note to a sales staff member during the month. More than one note was encouraged.

This was a truly daunting assignment. I knew very little about stereo components. I played the trumpet. All five salespeople were national, award-winners.

One of the long-time salesmen passed away one day. It wasn’t my fault. My manager came down and asked me to go through his desk to make sure there was nothing embarrassing to him or the company. The family was coming in to spend some time in the department where the salesmen had spent most of his working life.

He used an old-fashioned Army Surplus desk with deep drawers, which I went through. In one really deep bottom drawer there was a big box of papers; I couldn’t make heads or tails of them, but I soon noticed that everything inside the box was in chronological order, by date, with the youngest documents first. As I was trying to figure out what it was all about, I noticed that on every piece of paper, going back more than 30 years, there was a handwritten note from somebody making a nice comment about this gentleman’s work.

There were several notes from the company’s founder from more than 30 years ago, plus several hundred more up to that day. Some were just scribbles, “Great job with the Wilsons, we couldn’t crack them, you sold them”, “Thanks”, “You really did a great job resolving the concerns of the Olsons, they kept the merchandise after all. Nice going.” Then it struck me that he had likely saved every positive note he ever received. There, on top, in front was my recent handwritten compliment. I kind of teared up.

When his family came, I had put the box on the top of his desk. His family members began going through it and talking excitedly about how many of these notes they knew about. Seems he talked about them at the dinner table whenever he got one. As I think back over that dramatic day, in the context of my career, my resolution was to do a lot more consistent and constant thanking people, complimenting people, and congratulating people. I hear from some of these people every month.

How to Write a Memorable Thank You Note

  1. A one sentence positive explanation of what specifically got your attention or triggered a productive thought or learning moment.
  2. A general complimentary comment about the person you are writing to: their generosity, their wisdom, their helpfulness.
  3. A specific suggestion, request, or observation. (Something like, “I really like the part about your joining a small family agency, please write more about your experiences in the future.”)
  4. Closing compliment. “You really are a contributor to our profession. Thank you.”
  5. A useful close, i.e. “Hope to hear more from you”.
  6. Sentimental close (if you really know the recipient). These are two of my favorites of all time, from Chester Burger, one of the very prominent practitioners of his day. A sincere and motivational closing: “With admiration and anticipation, Your Name,” or a more personal close for someone you know rather well, “With Respect and Affection, Your Name”.

Special note: the most powerful format is handwritten and of course, sent through the mail. Compliments sent through email are appreciated but have only a small percentage of impact compared to a personally signed note.

The best time to write a note like this is right now, you are likely to be at your most eloquent, important, and memorable best at the moment of your inspiration and gratitude.

My personal belief is that every supervisor, senior manager, parent, and leader has an obligation to look for others doing outstanding things, then take the trouble to personally recognize their accomplishments. These powerful communications often have lifelong impact.

The lesson and perhaps the moral is if you want to be remembered, remember others, first.

Being memorable and remembered is your responsibility.

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