How to Build Stronger Connections: Pick Up a Pen

People may not remember what you did or said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.

—Maya Angelou

Humans have been writing letters to each other for millennia. Handwritten correspondence occupies a special place in our hearts and in our culture at large. Not only do we write letters, but we save them, too. The oldest existing letters we know of, for example, are the Amarna clay tablet archives, which were written by Egyptians during the 13th century BC. We also treat our handwritten notes as treasures, even devoting museum exhibits to them, for example. And we fill empty shoeboxes with handwritten love letters, holiday cards, and postcards from far-off places.

Does anyone do that with e-mail? Not really. We don’t call up an e-mail years later and read it with the same tenderness we feel toward handwritten notes. In fact, we often permanently delete e-mail after dealing with it (especially as more and more people aspire to achieve “inbox zero”). So I think it’s safe to say that no, e-mail doesn’t have the same attraction and endurance as handwritten correspondence.

True, e-mail hasn’t been around for very long yet. So I suppose you could say that the jury is still out on its long-term appeal. It is possible that one day e-mail could surpass handwritten notes in popularity—once it’s been around for a few thousand years, perhaps.

Honestly, though, I don’t see that happening. Why? Because e-mail can’t hold a candle to handwritten correspondence in terms of emotional impact and sentimental value.

The big reason is haptics. We interact with hard-copy texts in a much different way from how we interact with electronic texts. We engage with print more closely and we remember it better. It has staying power and impact—in both our hearts and our heads—that dwarf anything e-mail can accomplish. (As I pointed out last spring, I still have a two-year-old handwritten note from my daughter posted on my wall—but I’ve yet to print out and save a single text she’s sent me.)

The other reason is that people appreciate handwritten letters, and that appreciation can translate into connection. When Douglas Conant took over as CEO of the then-beleaguered Campbell Soup Company, he realized that the company’s success depended on improving the company culture. So he set out to do that—by hand writing notes of encouragement to every single employee. Over the course of ten years, he wrote about 30,000 letters. Those letters resonated with the employees so much that now, decades later, many of them count their letters from Conant among their prized possessions. The fact that the CEO cared enough not just to write a letter but to take a fair amount of time to write it by hand had an unforgettable emotional impact on those employees.

So what does this mean? Because a handwritten letter can carry far more impact beyond its content, consider breaking out a pen and a piece of paper the next time you want to communicate with someone in a manner that builds an emotional connection. Instead of dashing off quick e-mails to clients after meeting with them, take the time to handwrite thoughtful notes to thank them for their time. Your effort to connect with them in this meaningful and personal way definitely won’t go unnoticed.

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