As a bookkeeper, I learn from my own experience, as well as that of my clients. I’ve seen that one of the advantages of being a small business owner is the opportunity to interact directly with clients, vendors and others in our community. Unfortunately, these dealings are not always easy. We all know there are difficult people out there — the customer who demands the impossible, the employee who takes advantage, the contractor who does not fulfill a commitment. The normal response — defensiveness, curtness, exasperation — too often does not lead to a comfortable resolution. These are situations that call for grace.

I’ve thought about grace in the business environment ever since a friend explained how he admires people who conduct themselves with grace– not just under pressure, but in all situations. When I asked him what he meant by “grace” he wasn’t able to define it, but mentioned several mutual acquaintances as examples. Each of the people he named demonstrate a certain manner of being which somehow communicates a respect for the people they interact with, for themselves, for the situation. Other words that come to mind are consideration, politeness, honesty, tolerance. Grace is all of these things, and more. It is personal even in business.

As a business strategy, it is amazingly successful. Responding with grace — not merely swallowing one’s exasperation but sincerely trying to understand the other person’s perspective and treating the other not as an opponent but as a person — may not always lead to a perfect resolution but the chances are good that it will lead to a better resolution. I’ve seen it happen enough times for my clients, some of whom seem to have been born with grace and others who have worked hard to achieve it: a difficult situation that could escalate into unpleasantness is defused with grace. Compromises are reached, customers satisfied, work performed more conscientiously.

I have seen how the opposite holds true — those who, in the name of efficiency, treat others with an unwitting callousness. They do not realize that their manner, although not actually rude, creates a barrier to positive interaction. It can be subtle; people do not respond as well, perhaps do not offer the extra service or return business. Those lacking grace may never realize that there is another way, that things could be better.

I believe that grace can be achieved through a conscientious effort. I have been working at it and have seen positive results.