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INTIMATE GRATITUDE: ways to go beyond client appreciation

Thomas Cole’s “Titan’s Goblet” evokes an abundance to toast in gratitude.

I can say unabashedly that I love my relationships with my clients. My work with them brings deep gratification. Our conversations feed my own creative projects, and their tenacity often inspires me.

As the year’s end approaches, I’m reflecting on how far my clients have come in their projects and ventures. I want to show them or express to them what their relationships have meant to me.  Like other positive emotions such as compassion, gratitude can sound like a good idea, a noble concept. But I’ve been wondering,

How can creative entrepreneurs express gratitude to clients genuinely, authentically, memorably?

Answers must have something to do with intimacy – not intimacy with clients, per se, but intimacy with the feeling of gratitude itself. Answers have to do with not experiencing gratitude as an intellectual concept but feeling it as part of our blood, bones, and skin, so to speak. That kind of intimacy. Otherwise, expressions of gratitude can seem trite, clichéd, automated – a flavorless gesture or comment. I’m seeking something more than “client appreciation.”

One of my clients, a corporate consultant, used to resent his own clients because, he had said, their work took up his time to work on his novel. Several designers, artists, and creative entrepreneurs with whom I work periodically express similar annoyance with their day jobs or client business. Resentment probably won’t lead to astonishing service. Harbor enough secret scoffs and gritted teeth long enough, and you’ll likely get what you asked for: fewer and fewer clients.

I had a juicy conversation with him. He knew, intellectually, that he should be grateful for the work since it was helping him pay his bills and his son’s private school tuition. Still, he felt his creative time was gobbled up by his clients’ work. We had to penetrate more deeply and get to the marrow of his work. What did he most enjoy about working with clients? How did that work bring out the best in him as a human being? How specifically did he feel gratified with any of his clients’ work?

He took the questions to heart and began to remember some experiences that brought him and his clients satisfaction and joy. He realized that client work required his gift for empathizing with clients’ needs and drumming up spot-on copy and marketing strategy. So…

#1: Conduct a positive emotion inventory: What do you most enjoy about working with clients or your day job? How does that work bring out the best in you as a human being? How specifically do you feel gratified with any of your clients’ work?

Granted, if you can’t answer these questions positively, we might need to talk about making space for doing great, meaningful work (but that’s another conversation for the future).

Positive emotions, I’m convinced, create time. I asked my multi-talented web designer Monica Gurevich some questions via email about gratitude. She writes, “It can be a challenge using your artistic abilities within a creative profession. I have learned early on to take criticism and accept rejection after working myself dry.  Sometimes we can lose momentum and insight when we feel we are not creating a positive response in others.”

When we set conditions to enjoy work and to be generous with our clients, then our minds are more likely to stay focused and open, and our bodies more likely to be jazzed outside of work. A focused, open mind and a vital body at day’s beginning or day’s end can help you craft an hour or more every day to draft your novel, develop your encaustics project, or experiment with your science sculptures.

Michael Belfiore is an author and speaker on innovation and break-through technology (and an awesome friend). He works with and talks with “mad scientists” and technologists regularly. He also works as a copywriter for a variety of clients. He has a gift, I think, for putting experts at ease and getting them to talk and tell their stories. He told me that, “Any time you can help people to feel good about working with you, the smoother and more effective your interactions will be.”

#2: Specify your gratitude. To feel gratitude intimately, specify what you’re grateful for with certain clients. Does one of them bring you bizarre laughter? Does a challenging personality help you check your own defenses?  List each client’s name and identify the details of gratitude for each.

#3: Reach deep into your gratitude well. The relationships you build with clients and your tribe can bring out the best in you. “Expressing gratitude,” Gurevich writes, “can inspire and in turn produce new possibilities for future exchanges with those people.” They also can stimulate creative ideas for your own projects, make you ever more resourceful, and offer you constant tests for your talents and wits. Try to feel what you’re grateful on your skin, so to speak, and in your blood. Maybe an image like that of Thomas Cole’s “Titan’s Goblet,” shown above, comes to mind. (anything to help make gratitude a feeling more than a concept!)

Once we feel it, how do we express it?

#4: Give regular, natural doses. Belfiore has an idea: “Just the simple courtesy of returning an email promptly is a way of expressing gratitude for a person’s desire to work with you – and goes a long way toward encouraging future interactions.”

Chris Guillebeau – of The Art of Nonconformity – must know something about intimate gratitude. He’s an authentic organizer and entrepreneur who has been traveling the globe for several years to inspire people to live their nonconformist dreams. He’s gathering a small (or not-so small) army in Portland this year for a World Domination Summit where people will share ideas and collaborate to, well, change the world for the better.

Chris wrote me that he tries to be grateful every day: “I try to a) be aware of my surroundings, b) be aware of all of the people in my life, c) live intentionally, and d) always think: what can I do to help someone today?” Good habits. They’ll change your outlook, openness, and – according to Richard Wiseman – possibly your luck.

#4: Draw upon your best talents. If you’re a designer, design something for your clients. If you’re a poet or a writer, write something to them. If you’re a carpenter craftsman, send them something simple carved from your favorite kind of wood.

#5: Be slightly vulnerable and intimate. You don’t have to confess private matters. But when you offer words or gestures or gifts that expose a personable part of you, then you establish a deep trust with your clients. Again, Chris Guillebeau comments: “When you live a life of gratitude, you cultivate trust and authority. Over time, that certainly helps business. But more importantly, hopefully you gain a mindset and worldview that allows you to be at peace with everyone and feel like you are making a difference.”

The hands-down most inspiring example I know of comes from graphic artist Marian Bantjes. Bantjes is my latest wonder-tracker hero. (You’ll hear more about her in the Hut.) Early this year she asked her clients to send her a used Christmas card. With laser cutting and her deft artist’s eye and skill and care, she crafted elaborate Valentines from the Christmas cards and sent them to each client. Who would not be charmed or touched to receive such a clever, handmade gesture that does say, “I love our relationship. We’ve got a good thing going.”?

Last year, I sent several clients who had been working with me for a long time a book  I thought related to their project or unique aesthetic interests. This year, I’m opting for something more intimate. I’m writing them a letter. It’s a sort of poetic letter that lets them know how exquisite I think they are as they’ve each pushed through so much this year while developing their projects and shaping their creative lives. I had thought about handwriting them, but I have near-illegible handwriting. So I’ve chosen some  textured paper to print the letters onto. We’ll see what the response is. And if it’s good, I’ll post the letter in the Hut later.

It’s risky to show clients you care that deeply and personally. But it’s worth it. It’s the only way I can relate these days.

What about #6? What are your ideas for how we can feel and express intimate gratitude for our clients and devoted fans? How have you specifically expressed gratitude to clients and/or fans?

Share your ideas and experiences with gratitude here in the Hut.

See you in the woods,

More resources on gratitude:
Gratitude, Creativity, and the 30-Day/300-Things Gratitude Challenge (by myself)
Three Truths to Help You Create a Life of Gratitude (by Chris Guillebeau for Zen Habits)
The Gratitude Experiment (by Greg Archer for The Huffington Post)
Creative Rock Stars Astound Their Audience (by Mark McGuiness, Lateral Action)

Where else you can find TW on the web:

Join the conversation on creative productivity, creative living, & more on our Facebook page.
Get a daily dose of questions, ideas, and information on Twitter.
Tracking Wonder blog at Psychology Today and at The Creativity Post

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  1. Managers take note as well…if you want to effectively manage one of today’s distributed (i.e., not all in the same office) workforces, responding promptly to incoming mail from your team members—even if you don’t view it as pressing—will get you better service when you do need it. For better or worse, email is often one of our only points of contact with colleagues, and a lot of reading between the lines goes on, of necessity. The simple act of replying quickly transmits volumes.

  2. Michael: That’s a great point. Even if the response is “Thanks! I’ll reply in more depth soon!” the acknowledgment goes a long way in expressing gratitude for an active, engaged team member. Responding to team members’ emails promptly is a way also to acknowledge that they matter.

    It’s a matter of reciprocity, too, isn’t it?

    I appreciate your perspective.