I remember when I was stranded with my car just off Peachtree Road during a cold snowy day in Atlanta. In a most foolish moment, I drove a rear-wheel drive automobile home from work in the snow and ice. While standing by my car in obvious frustration, a man driving by slowed down and asked if I was okay. I was in a ditch in the freezing cold and was hoping he would pull over to help give me a push. Out of politeness, I stated that I guess so. He then said okay, smiled and drove away.

So many times, we make these small gestures towards others. They are really symbolic more than anything as we don’t expect to be asked for any follow through. In the business world, we call these relationship-enhancing gestures yet you really wonder if the person on the other side sees it as such.

Why should symbolic gestures cut it in our business or our personal relationships? We often forget that there are humans on the other side who have their unique personal background and who struggle with many of the same problems in life that we do. We all crave genuine human interaction and meaningful positive gestures.

In business, efficiency means a lot. Let’s get the most done in the least amount of time. Unfortunately, we carry too much of this mindset over to our relationships.

How many of us have used the line “Let me know if there is anything I can do” in a card or an e-mail to a client or a friend? I certainly have. Don’t you always get an empty feeling after writing this? You know that it is unlikely you will be asked to do anything. It is easy to do and it is symbolic. However, in the end of the day, it will not be perceived as a very meaningful gesture.

Let’s up the ante in our relationships. Instead of sending out pre-printed birthday cards to folks, let’s write our own personal message. Whenever possible, let’s hand write things and hand sign them. What if we took some time to get to know the interests and hobbies of people we interact with regularly and periodically sent a gift or a note commemorating something of importance to them? Instead of sending generic holiday gifts to all of our contacts, what if these gifts were personalized? This is definitely more time consuming, but maybe there are times when it pays to intentionally make things a little more difficult on ourselves.

Is there somebody who works in your office building or in your residence that you see every day? Do you get to know their name, say hello to them each day and periodically talk with them for a few minutes to see how their day is going? Don’t do this only when you need something. This always comes through as insincere and it doesn’t count.

What if a friend or a long-term client that didn’t live close by experienced a hardship? Instead of writing a supportive note, maybe you take some time out of your schedule to travel to them for a visit. I know it sounds crazy, but I think it would be appreciated on the other end. Maybe these gestures get reciprocated, but you should never make them with the expectation that they will be.

Getting back to my original story. Yes, I admit I deserved to be stranded on the road for my poor decision. However, I was fortunate that a father and son pulled up alongside me and took about 20 minutes of their time in the freezing cold to help me push my car back on the road. They didn’t know me and didn’t stand to benefit from helping me out. I got their contact information, called to thank them, and sent them a gift as a sign of appreciation.

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