Treating People Well: The Extraordinary Power of Civility at Work and in Life
by Lea Berman and Jeremy Bernard
256 pp. Scribner $27.00 (Hardcover)
At 40, there are moments in personal and professional life that I look back at and wish I had handled with a bit more charm, class, and grace. Those, if I had known then what I know now moments. Perhaps, if I had understood the pleasure showing gratitude can provide the receiver, I would have sent those thank you cards when I was younger. I might have given more thought to the details that make people comfortable as a hostess. There are truths that I could have said with more tact. To be honest, even this past week, I could have been better at that.
Other people have moments when they could have been more courteous too. One of my recent favorites was a car that cut me off with a bumper sticker that said, “How Would Jesus Drive?” My thought, like he’s not too worried about getting rear-ended.
Have you had those moments? Do you ever wish you knew how to navigate your personal and professional life with the grace and social charm required of a White House Social Secretary?
Treating People Well: The Extraordinary Power of Civility at Work and in Life was written by two former White House Social Secretaries. Lea Berman served as a Social Secretary during the George W. Bush administration. Jeremy Bernard was one during Barack Obama’s. Both share advice, insight into the gracious manners of the presidents and first ladies they served, and stories of social gaffes and graces that they witnessed during their tenures at the White House.
A couple moments of social graces being put to work
Michelle Obama sent former First Lady Nancy Reagan a get-well card after learning that she was struggling to recover from a broken rib. George W. Bush put his self-deprecating humor to put one of Berman’s daughters at ease during Berman’s farewell dinner. Her daughter had shared with him that she was failing algebra and that she hadn’t told her mom yet. He said, “Mom! Alice is flunking math, but you shouldn’t worry about it because I didn’t do very well in school either, and things turned out all right for me.”
In the book, 12 practices essential to the art of treating people well are divided into chapters. Topics range from cultivating confidence to being in full possession of virtual manners. Each chapter possesses fun insider tidbits like, “At the White House, we often placed the one-uppers with one another, imagining to what heights they would go with a little competition.”
12 of My Favorites from Treating People Well: The Extraordinary Power of Civility at Work and in Life:
- Always keep your words soft and sweet, in case you have to eat them.
- You can’t be a little bit loyal, in the same way that you can’t be a little bit pregnant.
- Silence is powerful; taking a moment to think over your response shows that you are sincerely considering what’s been said.
- “Listen, I’m sorry if you…” It doesn’t matter what he rest of the sentence is. The if places the responsibility oon the person you’re apologizing to rather than on you, where it belongs.
- “White House — itis.” Symptoms include delusional views of your own power, disdain for those who work beneath you, and relentless self-promotion.
- The ethics lawyers say, “Don’t write anything in an email that you wouldn’t be comfortable reading on the front page of the Washington Post.”
- Whether it’s a black-tie bash or a backyard barbecue, a successful party isn’t about the budget; it’s about the thought behind it.
- This one made the list, because my fiance and I will be getting married in a year and a half, so I think it’s important for everyone I know to know: It is inappropriate to post wedding pictures of the bride and groom before they have had a chance to do so.
- Attending to the details is something you can do every day — and do well. It will change how others think of you, but it will also make a transformative difference in how you see yourself.
- There is one basic rule for how to conduct yourself that fits any interaction…act as if the entire world is watching, and you cannot fail to do the right thing.
- …you can respect and honor another’s perspective without subscribing to it. That’s the essence of civility and freedom.
- Everyone is important, and everyone deserves to be treated well.
In addition to being an enjoyable and insightful read, I think Treating People Well is a great gift to give young graduates.