Master these 10 common graces

The consummate professional rounds technical skills with a few common graces.


Smith is the department chair of the Curriculum, Language, and Literacy program at Concordia University Chicago. She has more than 12 years of experience in adult teaching and training, and is a presenter at the 2013 Career Smart Engineers Conference.Take two incredible engineers; one is easy to work with, the other is not. Who would you hire or want on your team? The answer is pretty easy—you’ll pick the person who has better communication skills, is more positive when challenges are encountered, and has other tangible or intangible qualities that make him or her “easy to work with.” 

Defining “easy to work with” is not easy; doing so usually results in someone listing qualities or examples of behaviors, which gets mushy fast. But doing so is important. These behaviors, which I call “common graces,” if practiced, can genuinely help your career. 

This list that I use isn’t official, and undoubtedly you’ve seen many items on this list already. They’re self-explanatory, and they lend themselves to self-examination as well as a way to evaluate others.

My recommendation is to start with self-examination. See which of these you practice and which you don’t, and over time try to improve the ones you’re short on. I recommend that people choose no more than three things to improve over 12 months, so they don’t get overwhelmed and so the improvement sticks. 

When evaluating others, do the same thing—help them choose two or three to work on during a performance period, and give them feedback on a schedule you both agree on. 

Here’s my list of common graces. I’ve listed them and provided a little motivation, in case one particularly resonates with you. 

1. Call people back and respond to their e-mails in a timely manner. If you can’t answer a question right away, send an acknowledgement that you’re working on it and will have more in follow-up communication.

2. Do what you say you’re going to do, on time and on budget, or give advance opportunity for response if you can’t.

3. Listen to what people are saying; verbally summarize and check back to ensure you heard it right. This works great one-on-one and at meetings. The result is that you’ll achieve clarity not just for yourself, but for others as well.

4. Handwritten thank-you notes are an incredibly effective way to convey sincerity, to acknowledge someone going the extra mile. Have a batch of blank cards printed with the company logo with envelopes and a book of stamps in your drawer. It takes only a few minutes to make a lasting impression.

5. Spread the kudos from bylines in articles, papers, and presentations to verbal acknowledgements during staff meetings and project meetings with clients. Generally, I forward compliments sent to me or credited to me to the teams I work with, and name a few people who put forth extra effort or came up with something innovative.

6. Check in with contacts via phone once in awhile. Work through your contact list alphabetically, or the most important first, or the ones you haven’t spoken to in awhile. Checking in leads to all kinds of opportunities and spreads a lot of goodwill.

7. Start and finish meetings on time; distribute agendas ahead of time.

8. Work through problems by moving forward; banish revenge, anger, and disappointment from your work life.

9. Communicate expectations and consequences clearly. This allows you and others to save face during times of conflict or difficulty.

10. Keep people informed, especially during times of change. Rarely do we over-communicate in our work.

Smith is the department chair of the Curriculum, Language, and Literacy program at Concordia University Chicago. She has more than 12 years of experience in adult teaching and training, and is a presenter at the 2012 Career Smart Engineers Conference.  

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