British poet George Herbert said, "Good words are worth much, and cost little." One such word is grace. Grace is a sense of fitness and propriety. It is also a disposition to be generous and helpful. It's a word we don't hear too often in business, except perhaps when someone has fallen out of grace, or behaved disgracefully. Grace is a golden link that binds us to others, and it applies to all our relationships, whether it's dealing with our employees, colleagues, clients, family or friends. It's also the link of civility that connects us to strangers. Grace costs nothing but it buys us a lot of goodwill.
How can we bring grace to all our dealings with others, and make it one of our hallmark traits? Following this list is a great place to start.
1. Give without grudge, or don't give at all. Do you bend over backward to please demanding clients by giving them discounts and special treatment, but then include veiled complaints in the bargain? Do you under price yourself and often remind the client of this? Do you help a colleague but find opportunities to let that person know of your reluctance to do so? All these behaviors may be justified, if you feel you're being taken advantage of. So, simply refuse to do it. But if you decide to do it, then do it gracefully, without displaying your grudge as a badge in all your interactions with that person.
2. Know the difference between disagreeing and being disagreeable. Debates and active disagreements are a healthy part of a well-functioning team. But some people get carried away in the heat of the moment, and, in throwing out someone's argument, they also throw away any goodwill in the relationship. What you see as your passion may come across to others as your anger.
3. Temper your sense of justice. Our sense of justice is made up of thoughts and feelings about what is fair and unfair, what people owe us and what we deserve. Sometimes, this makes us react with a lack of grace; we become incensed when our rights have been infringed upon. But, as author Judith Martin aptly put it, "You do not have to do everything disagreeable that you have a right to do." We can decide to behave gracefully when someone rudely cuts us off in a line, and quietly let them go ahead. We can give someone the right of way when it is clearly not their turn. We can give up arguing a point even when we know logic is on our side.
4. Develop your social skills. While we don't set out to intentionally offend or ignore someone, it's easy to slip in small things that matter to people. For example, don't mention an invitation around those who have not been invited; always criticize in private; don't forget to draw attention to those who have worked behind the scenes to make an event or project successful; go out of your way to welcome newcomers; help loners to feel a part of the group.
5. Thank someone for a business referral. It's uncanny how many people land a business deal thanks to a referral but never get back to the person whose kindness helped them. Whether or not you closed the referred sale, send an e-mail to thank the person and briefly update them on what happened. If you closed the sale, consider sending a small gift, or a handwritten note. (NISA provides creative, business referral thank-you cards.)
6. Guard against using ungracious expressions. "Hi there" is an ill-conceived e-mail salutation of our times. How much more gracious it is to use the person's name. Here are a few other expressions that lack grace: Thank you, anyway; Whatever; and And I should care because...?
7. Be graceful in every room in your life. Do you show up differently in the boardroom than in the staff lunch room? Do you treat the chairman differently than you treat the cleaning woman? Everyone is entitled to be treated with courtesy. The mark of gentlemen (or gentlewomen) is how they treat someone who can be of absolutely no use to them.
8. Show grace under fire. Being cool and calm under pressure is something we admire, especially because it's so difficult to do. One way to do this is to raise your awareness of your patterns of frustration. What are some of the situations that regularly exasperate you? Who are the people who get under your skin? Develop strategies to cope with these life events. Self-awareness precedes self-management. Some jobs require people to work under tremendous pressure. Watch this video on how to stay calm on a trading floor, for example. The tips apply to all jobs.
9. Know what to do when you fall from grace. We have all, at one time or another, lost our temper, or reacted ungraciously with someone. It takes a big man or woman to pick up the phone and say: "I am sorry, I was rude with you at the meeting." Often, it's not what happens, but how we subsequently deal with what happens, that determines whether or not a relationship is permanently eroded. Most people are reasonable and willing to forgive when we show sincere regret. As Maya Angelou said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." A quick and sincere show of contrition signals to people that we respect them enough to make ourselves vulnerable.
Being graceful is one of the most human acts available to us. How easily we can make our workplaces and our world a better place simply by deciding to be more graceful in all our interactions with others. Grace is a sacred word. Let's aspire to grace and make it a household word in our everyday lives.
Read more articles by Bruna Martinuzzi.