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Start off the New Year with a polite pen to all

Posted: January 15, 2009 10:14 p.m.
Updated: January 16, 2009 4:55 a.m.

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Do you have a checklist of the people who deserve a thank-you note from you for holiday gifts? Whether you'll be writing notes of cheer and happy thanks, or some more serious correspondence like condolences, apologies or "Dear Johns," you can put words together with a polite pen that make your communication a positive experience.

Here are a few tips and examples for writers of all ages. Starting to write notes at a young age creates thoughtfulness, so this could be a family activity - done together around the dining table. Make your notes fun - avoid the boring "Thank you for the present. It was so nice of you to think of me." Instead, put some personality into it. Here is an easy technique: (A) Plan to write a minimum of three sentences in your note. (B) Mention the gift by name as you say your thanks. (C) Note the time and effort the gifter spent on making or buying this gift for you. (D) Mention how, when, or where you will use this gift. Your note could look like this:

"Dear Aunt Sara, I was so happy when I opened your package and saw the video game inside. How did you know this is one I have been wanting for such a long time? You are a great shopper! I've already played it solo, and now I am ready to challenge my Dad to a game. Thanks very much. Love, Ben."

More difficult notes are the ones where sensitive issues are present, as in notes of condolence. It's the easy-way-out to get a card that is already pre- written. It's OK to send those, but always add your own personal words of comfort too. Don't be afraid to just speak from the heart. People relate to other people's emotions.

Keep in mind that a letter of condolence is to comfort others, not for you to impart all of your grief. Here are guidelines for this type of correspondence: (A) Acknowledge the loss, the death, and that you share in their sadness. (B) Offer your help in some way during this difficult time. (C) Mention something memorable about the deceased person. Here is an example:

"Dear Dennis, What a huge loss you have endured with the death of your wonderful wife Kathryn. She was a very special friend to me as well, and I share in your sadness and loss. My memories of her clever sense of humor that made us laugh till we cried so many times, will be in my heart forever. If there is any way I can be of help to you during this difficult time, please know that I am just a phone call away. With deepest sympathy, Susan."

Letters of apology can bridge gaps and sometimes save a friendship or professional relationship. It's important to impart your feelings and acknowledge what happened. The real truth always prevails, so get out your pen, and even better, maybe also say this apology in person.

In this instance you will want to (A) State what the concern or issue is with humility. (B) Apologize for the inconvenience or situation. (C) Give a reason, without excusing yourself. (D) State your forgiveness.
"Dear Isabel, I am so sorry to have missed your graduation party, especially since I learned that you had selected a place for me at the head table. I was devastated when I realized that I calendared your party for one week later, by mistake. There is no excuse for my disorganization, and I apologize for the awkwardness this caused you. May I take you to lunch - as an extended celebration to congratulate you for a very fine achievement. With sincere apologies, Pamela."

A Dear John or Dear Joan letter is meant to be the kindness group of words you can put together, at a very sensitive time.

Pain is likely to be a part of this scenario, so this is the time to use the most polite pen you have. Keeping these pointers in mind will help with the flow of words: (A) Begin on a positive note, stating something good, then be direct and kind in giving the reason for the note. (B) Offer an explanation that does not make anyone wrong or do any blaming. (C) Take responsibility for your actions and feelings. (D) Be tactfully honest. (E) Close with a straightforward wish of how you want this relationship to end.

"Dear Gary, From the first time we met, I recognized in you a very fine man with integrity, and a wonderful sense of humor. Over the course of our friendship, it saddened me to notice that it will be a challenge for us to blend our lifestyles, and that we must now end this relationship. Our worlds are too far apart - both having good qualities, but not enough similarity to last a lifetime. I wish it could be different, but I must follow my intuition. I wish you a good life with much happiness, and believe it will be best to make this our final good-bye. Sincerely, Kay."

The written word will always have a powerful presence. It can have a lasting effect, and often become a treasured memoir. Let your kind personality show up through your polite pen!

Louise Elerding, is a Manners, Etiquette and Personal Appearance Coach, and the author of "You've Got Manners!" - a series of children's books on manners. For information on Table Manners classes in the SCValley, and to submit questions for the "Ask Louise' column, call 1-800-326-8953 or e-mail MannersA2Z@aol.com. www.youvegotmanners.com.

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