by Neil H. Baum, MD
In my medical practice, I use note writing extensively to communicate with patients, with families of patients and with referring physicians. And yet, when I received a note, which is not related to patient care, it is always a little surprising and uplifting, and I’m reminded why note writing (and note receiving) is so impactful.
A brief and timely personal note is a highly effective technique to help healthcare professionals inspire patient satisfaction. And, as I learned first hand from Coach Lou Holtz, it’s also a valuable tool for individuals and business executives.
Here’s why it’s important…and some how-to tips from the coach.
We are bombarded daily with electronically conveyed messages; email, television and radio broadcast and even computerized billboards. There’s a generation of young people who text friends more frequently than using the phone. But a handwritten note has become a novel, and therefore a distinctively powerful method of communication. It tells the recipient that you thought about them following your encounter. It says you value them and allows you to reinforce the points discussed. Let me give you an example.
Several years ago I had the pleasure of a five-minute meeting with Coach Lou Holtz. At the time, he was the head football coach at Notre Dame. (You recognize the name as one of the most successful college football coaches of all time, a public speaker, author and sports analyst.)
One week after meeting the famous coach, I received a personal note from him, acknowledging our meeting and highlighting several points we had discussed, including our mutual interest in motivating others to reach their full potential.
I called Coach Holtz and asked him how, with his busy schedule, he was able to not only find time to write such a personal note, but to remember details from our brief conversation. Coach Holtz revealed some of his note-writing secrets, and revealed how notes can have an empowering impact on people in your life.
- To whom should you write? Coach Holtz suggests writing to express thanks, appreciation, congratulations or acknowledgment. Coach Holtz writes his barber or a waitress if he is receiving good service. If someone goes the “extra mile” for Coach Holtz or his family, that person receives a personal note. Coach Holtz is so committed to note writing that he encouraged his coaching staff and all his players to write at least one note a day.
- How do you remember to whom you will write? The best way to remember seems to be to write yourself a note. I use a free cell phone app, Dragon Dictate, to record notes and reminders for myself. Simply dictate the names of people to write and record a key word(s) to jog your memory.
- How long should your note be? According to Coach Holtz, brief is best. A long letter may be skimmed over by busy people. But a concise and timely note is more likely to be seen and read.
In addition, Coach Holtz recommends brevity and relevance. Don’t ramble. Be personal and sincere. The best style is a simple, conversational manner. Unless you are generally a formal person, avoid formalities such as, “It was indeed a pleasure to have made your acquaintance.”
- What should the content of your note include? You want to immediately grab the attention of your reader. Coach Holtz suggests that the first sentence give the reason for your note. He usually begins by simply stating, “The purpose of this note is…” or “I just wanted to say thank you for…” followed by the specific context. Coach Holtz has a direct style, so his openings fit his personality. Write your notes in any style that’s comfortable for you.
- Why is timing important? Immediate notes have greater impact. Consider the difference between a note arriving a day or two after you communicated with someone versus a note arriving weeks or months later. If you’re serious about incorporating note writing in your business or your personal life, give it priority and make time for it daily.
- Why are timely notes important? Social psychologists report that written communication is one of the best ways to enhance a relationship. Everyone enjoys receiving mail, and a timely, appreciative note can be read and savored for a long time.
Coach Holtz believes that the few minutes you take each day to write a note of thanks or acknowledgment is an investment in your friendship, your business or your professional practice. Networking is predicted to be the contact sport for the new Millennium.
My encounter with Coach Holtz emphasized that successful professionals, whether in coaching or medicine, have discovered the importance of a timely note.
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Dr. Neil Baum is a nationally recognized urologist, speaker, and author. He has been in the private practice of urology in New Orleans, LA, since 1978 and is Associate Clinical Professor of Urology at Tulane Medical School and Louisiana State University Medical School. He is the author of Marketing Your Clinical Practice—Ethically, Effectively, and Economically (Jones and Bartless, 2009, 4th edition).