Recently, I looked back at the people I've connected with during the past several years. Many had asked me for my professional opinion or requested a referral to someone I know. Others wanted my time, my skills, my money, or a piece of my soul (the last went unsatisfied).
Out of hundreds of people I helped, less than a third ever expressed their gratitude. Even fewer had surprised me later with an act of generosity.
On a positive note, I realized that the people who did express their gratitude or reciprocate with generosity are the folks I now respect the most. I suspect it's no coincidence either that the quality and creativity of their work is also higher than average. They’re the people who immediately spring to mind when I have opportunities to share. They’re who I’ll carve out time for, even when my schedule is packed.
Let’s be clear, I don't give help for the glory. Even so, in my professional life, a little gratitude and generosity goes a long way to influence what I think of a person—and whether I think of them at all.
Why gratitude and generosity matter for your personal brand
Gratitude and generosity are qualities that help people take note of and remember you. And, being noticed and remembered is essential to building your personal brand. A lack of gratitude and generosity can also make you memorable—but for all the wrong reasons.
Your gratitude and generosity toward others often matters more than your pedigree or accolades. Through gratitude and generosity, you show a commitment to holding yourself accountable to a higher personal standard.
Gratitude and generosity especially make a difference in the professional world, where those qualities are all too rare. A strong personal brand can expand your influence, open doors to new opportunities, and grow your professional network.
Let others know they are valued, and you’re also more likely to be valued in return. Be generous with others, and you’ll build good will. You’ll be associated with positive feelings and a general sense of awesomeness.
That is the essence of a building strong personal brand.
How to express gratitude and generosity to build your personal brand
Stop making excuses
Everyone is busy. Everyone has too much going on. You are not the busiest person in the world. If you have time to watch Netflix, you have time for gratitude and generosity.
In our rush to get things done, too often we finish what we’re working on and then move on. It’s time for that to stop. Make time for gratitude and generosity in everything you do.
Make them a priority and part of your process. If you're a to-do list maker or rely on calendar reminders, use those tools so you don't forget to be gracious and generous.
Say thank you
Thank yous are for the big things people do for you, and for the little things as well. People deserve your appreciation for the time they spend, for the effort they make, for whatever else they do to help you or to help those you care about.
This isn’t a call for the return of handwritten thank you notes (though my mother-in-law would be thrilled if that happened). You can express your gratitude in a few sentences or a quick 140-character tweet. Even a quick “Thx :)” is better than nothing.
Being heavy handed with your gratitude or generosity can scream “Beware! Hidden Agenda!” to the recipient. Worse, if you lay it on too thick, you can send out creepy vibes. Don’t do it if you’re only interested in calling attention to yourself. Do it because the person deserves your gratitude or generosity.
To avoid being ingratiating or tacky, let your gratitude be the focus. Mention why you’re thankful, just in case the person doesn’t remember or isn’t aware of the impact they had on you. Leave off anything extraneous—especially asking for another favor.
Buy the coffee
If you ask someone to “pick their brain” over coffee or a meal, you’d better be buying. They’ve shared their time and expertise with you. Picking up the check in return isn’t a burden.
Let your gesture of gratitude fit your personality and style, but don't take it too far. A good rule of thumb is if you would make the gesture on Valentine's Day, you've gotten too personal.
If the person works in government, follow ethical guidelines on gift-giving. If they say they can’t let you pay, they may be avoiding any possible perceptions of obligation or bribery. In that case, you've made the gesture and splitting the check is fine.
Recognize and reciprocate
If someone has been awesome to you, return the favor through recognition and reciprocation.
Give people credit for their ideas or for being the source of inspiration. Engage them in an online or offline conversation about their work, comment on their blog posts (hint hint), and share what they created with a note about why it inspired you (social media is great for this).
Recognizing someone’s gratitude or generosity can take many forms. Offer to be a reference, write a testimonial for their business, endorse them on LinkedIn, or nominate them for an award. Introduce generous and gracious people to each other, and you’ll help build a personal network worth being a part of.
How do you show your gratitude and generosity in your professional life? Share it in the comments.