Courtly Manners: The Inner Beauty Contest
California Lawyer

Courtly Manners: The Inner Beauty Contest

May 2013

You are about to exit the freeway when suddenly a white SLS Mercedes cuts you off, causing you to slam on your brakes and slosh your now-not-so-large coffee around the car. Moments later, as you pass the offending driver, you pause and let your fingers do the talking. Lucky you? Not if half an hour later said driver walks in as the GC heading up the beauty contest that's been six months in the works. She is not amused.

Regardless of how the other driver tells the story, the fact remains that you flipped her off and she is now in a position to return the favor.

According to the Emily Post Institute, three factors influence relationships: appearance, actions, and words. Misuse of any of these factors repels potential clients, and two of these occur before you ever open your mouth.

Assuming the GC recognizes you, you have several options:

1. Pretend the incident did not happen.

2. Acknowledge it and apologize.

3. Explain that she cut you off and show her where the coffee spilled.

4. Excuse yourself and start updating your résumé.

If you picked option number two, you're on the right track. This scenario requires a true apology, sans the if word. (Apologies backfire when they start out "If I offended you" or "If I hurt you, etc.") It takes courage and humility to apologize without looking for an excuse, and it displays strength of character - an admirable trait that prompts people to forgive if it is perceived as genuine. Humor helps, but later. Go humble: "I am so sorry, that was rude of me. Please forgive my lapse in good manners." If a smile comes your way, return it and proceed with confidence - after all, you're still in the running. - Crystal Rockwood
Crystal Rockwood, president of Rockwood Communications Counsel in Seal Beach (, provides litigation PR, publicity, and business development services for law firms and businesses. She is a graduate of the Emily Post Business Etiquette program.

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