Give Thanks

Last time, we talked about not being afraid to ask for help when we need it. In honor of Thanksgiving, I present this post. One of the best pieces of advice I've ever received is to always thank someone after you ask for their help. This was another lesson I learned while networking for my next career. My networking mentor said with great regularity that the first thing we should do after we meet with someone was to send a thank you note. E-mail was acceptable, but a handwritten note was the best. I often did both. I followed up with a quick e-mail thanking them for their time and reinforcing anything that I thought they may need to hear again. When got home that night I wrote out a thank you note. Being the geek I am, standard-issue thank you notes were not acceptable. I created my own design of thank you's in 14 languages and printed them out on thank you card stock I found at Office Max. I'm an overachiever, what can I say.

So what does this have to do with technical arts in the church? Quite a lot, actually. Before I explain, let me state clearly that I have no agenda in this other than the transference of knowledge. This is not intended to guilt anyone into anything. I've just noticed in this day of instant communication, some basic tenants of etiquette have sadly disappeared from our landscape. This is to our own peril. So back to the point. 

As I said yesterday, I receive 6-8 requests a month from readers for help. I am more than happy to oblige as much as I am able. I am what Malcolm Gladwell calls a Maven; that is I love researching new products and sharing that knowledge. When you need advice on what to buy, or how to do something, you ask a maven. I am honestly humbled that people around the country and the globe want my opinion. I enjoy doing it, and enjoy e-mailing back and forth with people until we get the issue solved. 

For the most part, I find that people really appreciate the help. Quite often people write back thanking me for the advice, and one terrific guy from the Philippines even sent pictures of him and his family (thanks for that---that was so cool!). Some of these exchanges have led to friendships, which is really great. But every so often, I'll spend some time answering a question and never hear from the person again. That really puzzles me.

I could list more examples, but that sounded like sour grapes when I wrote it. So instead, I'll offer some suggestions that will hopefully make us all better people. 

When you ask someone for help, recognize that their time is valuable. They're under no obligation to help, though most will because all of us like it when someone asks our opinion. Everyone likes to feel valuable, but when there's no expression of thanks for the help given, the helper feels used. I know of some people who would have been very valuable to my job search, but wouldn't meet with me because too many before me asked for their help and took advantage. They were soured on helping and gave up on it. Don't be a link in that chain.

E-mail thanks are great, handwritten notes are better still. When possible, I like to employ both. I was amazed more than once when I met with someone a second time and saw the thank you note I had sent them after the first meeting sitting on their desk. When I asked about it, most said they were so impressed with the card, not because it was great, but because so few bother to say thank you any more. The fact that I did made them far more willing to help me, and many went over and above what I asked them for.

If someone really helps you, really thank them. A few months ago, I was asked by the leaders of the women's BSF group that meets at our church to train their tech team volunteers how to use our system. Though not strictly in my job description, I was glad to do it, if for no other reason than I figured it would save me time down the road. I ended up spending a few hours with them, walking them through the system and the changes I made over the summer. They were effusive in their thanks. The next week, I found a Caribou gift card in my mailbox, along with some chocolates. The following week, there was a Subway gift card and some more chocolates. Every time I run into one of the leaders in the hall, she thanks me again for the help. On the few occasions they have had a problem, I don't mind dropping what I'm doing to help them out again. And it's not because of the goodies, it's because I know they really do appreciate it, and it feels really good to help out people who feel that way.

Follow up. One lesson I learned is that after people offer help, they really like to know how it turned out. When I landed at a new position, I sent an e-mail to everyone who I had met with letting them know. Probably 50% of those people wrote back and said they were excited for me and offered ongoing help in the future if I needed it. Two months later, I did. My contract was cut short when the client had a bad quarter. Once again, people were happy to help. Personally, I love hearing how things work out when I make a equipment recommendation. Did it meet the need? Are things better off? I wonder sometimes if I made the right suggestion, and it's great to know when it works out well. Even if you don't take the advice, it's good to follow up and tell the person how the problem was solved. Shared knowledge is always helpful.

These are some lessons I wish I had known earlier in my career. I didn't ask for help much early on, and I rarely said thank you. I always wondered how some people seemed to get ahead faster than I did. Others seemed to have great networks of people to lean into and advanced their position. Now I realize it's all about asking and thanking. People love to be asked and deserve to be thanked. 

As Christians, we should be the most thankful people on the planet. We've been given (and forgiven) so much, that thanksgiving should overflow from our lives. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I once again thank those who have helped me, and hope that this missive helps you as well. Peace.