Last Word: Building Strong Relationships

If you examine and then even incrementally improve your actions, appearance, or words, you can improve your relationships.

By Peter Post

When I became involved in the Emily Post Institute teaching about etiquette, I found myself sitting at a lunchroom counter one day scribbling notes for an upcoming talk. The thrust of the talk was the importance of etiquette in building relationships. Etiquette, after all, is more than just a bunch of rules. Its true purpose is to guide us to make choices that build relationships.

Emily Post explained the real value of etiquette this way: “Whenever two people come together and their behavior affects one another, you have etiquette. Etiquette is not some rigid code of manners, it’s simply how persons’ lives touch one another.”

So what actually affects a relationship? It’s all well and good when a consultant tells you the secret to business success is to build strong relationships, but what he doesn’t tell you is how to do that.

Relationships can be amorphous things, not easy to wrap your fingers around and simply shape the way you would clay into a piece of pottery. While sitting at that counter, I realized that relationships are affected by only three things:

  • Actions
  • Appearance
  • Words

Consider Actions

If your cell phone rings while you’re talking to me in person, you have choices. One is to answer your phone. Of course, that choice has a decidedly negative effect on me as I’m wondering if the person on your phone is more important to you than I am, so I see your action as rude. However, if you reach into your pocket and push the button that sends the call to voicemail without even looking to see who is calling you, your action indicates I’m more important to you than a call on your phone. I feel honored by that action.

Appearance Affects People’s Opinion of You

Certainly your clothes make a difference, but what about your body language? It speaks volumes about your interest or your disinterest in me. Tapping your foot shows you are impatient. Looking around shows you’re bored. Sitting with your arms crossed and a frown on your face shows you really don’t want to be here or listen to what’s being said. However, leaning forward and looking me in the eye says you’re focused on me. Asking a question or nodding your head says you’re really listening to me.

Your Words Matter

Take care that a word you might use could be a word I find offensive. I once did a seminar in which a participant asked a question. “Oh, my God, what a great question,” I enthused. Later when I read the evaluations, another participant had scrawled across the evaluation in four-inch high letters, “HOW DARE YOU TAKE THE LORD’S NAME IN VAIN!” While I had not meant anything of the sort, the reality was my word choice negatively affected my relationship with that person. Words do matter.

You don’t always have control of your environment, and you certainly can’t control what others do or say. But you can always be in control of your actions, of your appearance and demeanor, and of what you say. If you examine and then even incrementally improve your actions, appearance, or words, you can improve your relationships.

Relationships can be amorphous things, not easy to wrap your fingers around and simply shape the way you would clay into a piece of pottery.

If you have business etiquette questions you’d like Peter Post to answer either in an upcoming issue of Training magazine or in an online article, please e-mail them to Training magazine Editor-in-Chief Lorri Freifeld at lorri@trainingmag.com.

Peter Postis a director of The Emily Post Institute (http://www.emilypost.com/seminars), great-grandson of Emily Post, and co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business.”

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Last Word

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