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Sturman: Power Of The Personal

11/03/10 5:55PM By Skip Sturman
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(HOST)  With record amounts of money having just been spent on political campaigns, commentator Skip Sturman is ready to consider other ways to win friends and influence people.

(STURMAN)  I don't know about you but I get sick and tired of hearing about the "power of the purse"; just for a change, I would like to hear more about "the power of the personal".

The power of the personal can take many forms from sending thank you notes for gifts to writing heartfelt condolence cards. Whatever the form, I'm convinced that seemingly small gestures can make big differences in people's lives. When someone takes the time to scribble a random message of kindness, we sit up and take notice. It really resonates!

Stephen Lewis, the former president of Carleton College, used to liberally disseminate personalized "blue notes" all over campus to let others know that their achievements - or challenges - did not go unnoticed.  According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Lewis used these notes "to develop personal relationships, encourage a sense of community and convey the college's appreciation of its many constituents."  My guess is that many of these "blue notes" have become treasured keepsakes, still carefully preserved by their recipients after all these years.

As a former college administrator myself, I saw the power of the personal when it came to job searches. Unlike today, when the cartoon character, Dilbert, advises a young relative to post his resume on the jobs' web site and - quote - "enjoy the misguided optimism that some day a human will see it" - unquote - there was a time not so very long ago when that optimism wasn't misguided. Resumes weren't just scanned by machines and processed; they were reviewed and acknowledged by real humans.

When positions came open in my own office, I sent standard rejection letters to the vast majority of applicants but always made a point to send a few finalists, notes of encouragement, written by hand. While I considered these notes nothing more than common courtesy, the recipients often reacted like drowning victims who had just been thrown a lifeline as they were about to go down for the third time.

Typical responses ranged from: "This was the nicest "no" letter I have ever received" to " Thank you for your beautiful letter written by hand. I read [it] every day that I was job-hunting. It gave me confidence and hope - much more important than offering me a job!" Well, that last statement may be a bit hyperbolic but then again, some of my rejection letters were so gushy that candidates were confused as to whether or not they had actually been offered a job.

I suppose that in this high tech era, practitioners of the power of the personal can be accused of being hopelessly out of touch. Still, I think otherwise. I think it is precisely because we're so supersaturated with cursory communications, many of them electronic, that we crave to see the human hand at work. The collectibles generated by the power of the personal may never make it onto E-Bay but perhaps that is just because their worth can't be calculated. After all, how do you put a price tag on gestures that are truly, priceless?
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