Let them save face

Recently, I was working with a client who wanted help on relationship building. As I always do in my individual consulting I observe and offer feedback on my client’s strengths and areas of opportunity.

This client was very organized and quick to complete the forms I sent him before our first meeting. I’m usually good about remembering what documents each of my client’s have returned to me but being extra busy with lots of clients I couldn’t remember if he had sent me the signed letter of agreement. I mentioned this and he said, “I apologize, I may not have sent it. I’ll look into it.” I had a hunch he had sent it, because he was so organized.

As it turns out, he did send it to me and I believe he knew this. He could have said “yes, I sent it.” and depending on his tone he could have conveyed “you are a dummy because I sent it to you, don’t you remember?” Instead, he took responsibility for it and didn’t make me feel wrong that I couldn’t remember if he had emailed me the form.

I shared with him how powerful and positive that is to do with others. That it’s easy to want to be right, to tell the other person they were wrong. But he didn’t and therefore, I didn’t feel foolish for not remembering receiving the agreement.

Another example of this happened today at the pool I swim at. I was getting dressed and was taking up maybe a little more room than I should have. When the person next to me arrived to get dressed she graciously said to me “I’m going to move to another area so you have more room.” She could have glared at me, or said, “I’m going to move so I have more room”, making me feel badly.

Both my client and the woman at the pool were being gracious and other-focused. Instead of pointing out my faults or mistakes, they assumed responsibility. They let me save face, which is a lovely way to behave. It is the essence of good etiquette – never making others feel uncomfortable or wrong.

I admit, sometimes that’s hard for me to do. I have a difficult time allowing myself to make mistakes. I am a perfectionist and when I’m put in the position of being questioned about something I did or didn’t do, I sometimes get defensive or even offensive. But my client and the pool lady demonstrated how much nicer it is for both parties when you don’t make someone feel wrong or react defensively.

What about you? Does allowing others to save face come easily to you? Do you struggle sometimes with wanting to be right? What do you think of letting others save face?

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. Tammy H on July 14, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    I love this advice and will try to implement it more in my life 🙂 I also wish I could suggest this to the people I know and work/volunteer with who are “one-uppers” or “I knew about this first and more than you because” type of people, but that probably wouldn’t go well 🙂

  2. Arden Clise on July 14, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    Hi Tammy,

    I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It’s tempting to want to “educate” others who aren’t as courteous isnt it? But the best way to do that is to be a good role model. Eventually they’ll learn or they’ll suffer the consequences of their rude behavior.

    Thanks for commenting.

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