The art of being gracious

hhdl Becoming more gracious is something I rarely hear about, but more and more in my life, it is proving to be a crux; not only in my personal life, but in my daily work environment. From building strong relationships amongst my team, to navigating the often dicey waters of collaborating with clients, the art of being graceful has become a trait worth strengthening.

Exercising grace is the first step towards understanding where someone is coming from. I heard a story in college that has resonated with me ever since. It’s about a professor riding the subway in NYC. At a certain stop, on boards a man with three rambunctious children. The kids were running around the car, yelling, bumping into passengers and fighting with each other. Clearly, the situation began getting uncomfortable as angered passengers shot daggered eyes and made offhand remarks, as they would dramatically tromp past the father to move to other parts of the train. One would expect the man to at least make an attempt at caging the zoo that is his children, yet he remains motionless and unaffected by the scene. The professor calmly leans into the man and says, “Perhaps you should try to wrangle your children a bit.” The man slowly looked up at him, continuing his blank stare and responded, “We just came from the hospital where their mother has passed from cancer. I have no clue how to move forward, nor how to break the news to my kids.”

Perspective brings clarity.

The poise of a gracious individual allows them the time to find that perspective.

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The benefits of being gracious in order to find perspective abound in my everyday life, in multiple applications. The calmness of a graceful individual allows them to see below the surface, and therefore understand the larger picture. Working with my internal team and working with clients are two daily occurrences that benefit from exercising grace. Before I go further, I should preface this by saying, I am not claiming to have arrived at being a gracious individual, but understanding the need is the first step towards the goal.

Building a stronger team

I’ve always sought a richer experience and deeper meaning from my work life. My entire adult life I’ve been self-employed, save for a 6 month stint, during which I was reminded of the reasons I was self-employed to begin with: The freedom to forge into new territories of your work, rather than being pigeon-holed into menial tasks; The ability to make decisions and changes to the projects, rather than following a mandate from an out of touch boss; The excitement of working on something challenging that I can take ownership of and be proud of, rather than monotonous tasks with little emphasis on quality.

In the same vein of what I want for myself, understanding what one wants and needs in their work life is a huge part in creating an environment that fosters growth of individuals, and ultimately the entire team. Workers whose needs are being fulfilled are much more engaged in the work they’re doing, and the quality of the work has no option but to rise. My goal has been to create an atmosphere where my team feels empowered by those freedoms.

Rather than pushing your agenda on a given project, try taking the time to listen and find perspective. Understand the goals of everyone on your team within their respective roles. The account manager has different goals than the project manager, than the designer, than the developer. They are all trying to do the best work they can for their role, but this fact often gets lost in translation when they fail to look a little deeper and see that ultimately they all have the same goal. The application of grace leads to a stronger team, with much better work, and for us making the work better is part of our core.

Collaborating with clients

Working with clients is another example of how exuding a graceful demeanor can circumvent potentially tense situations. When I first began working in the digital space, I heard a lot of negative talk about having to “hand-hold” clients. I never understood this attitude, as education is key to building a good client/consultant relationship, as well as translating the value of what we do. I’ve seen the attempts of insecure creatives who adopt a high and mighty attitude in an effort to convince a client they know what they’re doing. These attempts at hiding their lack of knowledge quickly go awry. There’s great value in taking the time to understand your client’s questions and educating them, to help them understand what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it.

You can create a great relationship with your clients through perspective, or you can treat them like intellectual halflings, and create a hostile relationship. The choice is yours. You’d be surprised how many choose the latter, time and time again.

Conclusion

There are a lot of ways in which one’s poise can benefit them, on a day-to-day basis, whether you’re dealing with friends, family and even your enemies. Remaining calm while dealing with those who have set themselves against you affords you a level head, and allows them the time and opportunity to make their mistakes. Take the time to think about the benefits of a forbearing, poised and tactful individual, you’ll find them readily apparent.

The once bold line between our work lives and personal lives have all but disappeared, in the way we work and the way we act. As with our personal lives, if we steam-roll those close to us, we’re likely to give ourselves a stony path and a lack of peace. On the other hand, if you take the time to put yourself aside, to understand the other person and to be gracious with what you would otherwise perceive as their failings, you’ll find a smoother path and be the wiser for it.

As the great warrior poet Sun Tzu said in The Art of War, “Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.”