When George Washington was a lad of sixteen, he copied down all 110 rules from “The Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” He knew he had a fiery temper, a trait he worked hard to control all his life. Many of the rules he copied were about restraint, patience, and dignity, and according to the authors of Treating People Well: The Extraordinary Power of Civility at Work and In Life, these lessons of Washington’s youth were invaluable during the Revolutionary War and helped to prepare him for the role he was to play in history. Written by two former White House secretaries to the George W Bushes and the Obamas, this is an indispensable book and guide on civility and social skills for today’s tricky communication encounters. The authors’ message is simple: “Everyone is important and everyone deserves to be treated well.”
I happened to be reading Treating People Well this past Tuesday when my daughter Kaitlin called on her way home from her first-year teaching job at a charter school on the South Side of Chicago, part of the Teach for America program. I could hear that note in her voice that indicated she was having a bit of a trying week—and it was only Tuesday. The first year of any job is hard, but teaching? Dealing with administrators, students, and parents…Sheesh!
I happened to be reading the chapter called “Radiate Calm” when Kaitlin phoned; perfect timing. Radiating calm is, according to the authors, like putting on your game face, acting as if you are totally in control: “In times of real crisis, it’s even more essential to have control of your emotions. Calm, just like fear, is contagious.”
The authors point out “It takes self-discipline to convey calmness in your facial expressions and body language, but it can become second nature with time and practice.” If you find yourself in a heated discussion or uncomfortable situation, for example, keep your facial expressions neutral and temper your tone.
In those stressful moments, you can’t control everything, but you can focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t: “Set your priorities. Remind yourself of what’s truly important to you, and don’t confuse other people’s inclinations and interests with your own.”
Though not easy, we can choose how we respond to people at work and to our families and friends. “Radiating calm in heated moments and in daily life changes the way you feel. It conveys maturity and competence, and it also changes how others see you.”
I’m happy to report that Kaitlin texted the next day: “I tried radiating calmness today. It went pretty well.” Pretty well is a good start.
(Like supporting independent bookstores? Give Prairie Path Books a call to order Treating People Well. 630-765-7455)