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Tuesday
Apr102007

CYA with Thank You Notes

We all are familiar with CYA letters. The "you said this," "I said this" and "in reliance on what you told me, I did the following . . ." style of correspondence. Recipients almost always know that the purpose of the letter is to protect the writer or gain advantage.

There is a subtler approach, one that does not raise as many concerns for the recipient, but can be just as effective to "CYA," if not more so.

The problems with traditional CYA letters is that the recipient knows what you are doing. This can strain your working relationship with the recipient. What you need is a way to document details and document discussions with customers, vendors, employees, strategic partners, government regulators, even your professional advisors without causing them concern.

There is an evidence rule in Federal court in probably every state which provides that if a written statement of fact is received and is not contested in writing, then the statement is presumed to be accurate. That is why CYA letters emerged, they are a way of "documenting" verbal conversations. Because of the confrontational nature of these letters, however, they are not used nearly as often as they should be.

With a confirming thank you note, you can document the same details and make the recipient feel good at the same time. From an effective management standpoint, you can create a written record without damaging your working relationship with the recipient.

Two factors influence the matter in which your note is received. The first is tone, the second is manner of delivery.

1. Tone. A confirming thank you note should sound like, well, a thank you note. For example:

Thank you for taking the time to meet with me earlier today. It helps me to know that you are expecting… You are a valued customer and we want to meet your requirements. If there is anything else you require, please let us know and we will go to work for you.

As you can see, a thank you note tone can be just as effective if you had said:

We had a contract for one thing, you now are requesting something else and that if you disagree with what I wrote, notify me in writing within three days.

Another example:

Thank you for taking time to meet with me yesterday. Knowing that we can … rather than … is very helpful. Thank you for your guidance.

2. Manner of Delivery. Of course, no matter the tone of your note, if you send it by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested, the recipient will know something is up. If you send your message by fax, it will not appear out of the ordinary and you will have a record of delivery. If it looks like a short note, rather than a formal letter, so much the better. Email is another great way to send an informal note documenting your agreements or your discussions.

Done right, recipients of your thank you message will appreciate your taking the time to make notes of the discussion and value your statement of gratitude. In the event either of you have different interpretations or expectations than the other, your message will prompt a discussion to resolve those issues at the onset, preventing a dispute later on.

Perception can be based upon perspective. Where two parties can at first walk in lock-step, differences can develop over time with each convinced that he or she is correct and they have been wronged by the other party. Confirming thank you notes are a way to document discussions, without endangering your working relationship so that disputes may be avoided.

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