Think of someone in your life you’d describe as a class act. When I ask people this question, about half will cite a grandparent.
It’s understandable. Grandparents shower us with kindness. They go the extra mile to make us feel special. The last memory of my late grandfather exemplifies this common experience.
I was eleven years old at the time. We were in south Florida, late winter. He packed me into his car without revealing our destination. Ten minutes later, he pulled into a sporting goods store and rushed me inside to buy me a baseball mitt.
He still refused to tell me where we were going, but when we pulled up to the ballpark, and the Yankee sign came into view, I cheered.
Yankees spring training camp. My first ever visit.
Before we left, one of the players randomly jogged over to us and autographed my mitt — me, of all the other people in the stands.
At the time, I considered myself a lucky recipient of a player’s kindness. Only years later did I connect the dots — my grandfather had somehow arranged it. There was no mention of his role in coordinating the encounter. He allowed me to think one of my heroes sought me out.
By refusing to take credit and making the experience about my happiness, he exhibited class.
Everyone recognizes a class act when they see one, but few people can articulate what it means to behave like one. It might seem like we need a new set of tools in this turbulent world.
The truth is, showing class is no different today than it was a decade ago. It might be more challenging, but it’s the same set of 11 principles.
1. Become master of your impulses
A class-act remains cool when their impulses scream for expression. Like everyone else, they feel an urge to lash out when attacked or engaged in verbal combat. But instead of taking the bait, they allow the impulse to pass, and somehow, in the aftermath, gain the respect and admiration of others.
Controlling your impulses can be as simple as a few deep breaths. While breathing, consider the circumstances, and respond in a way that de-escalates the situation.
You’ll miss out on the brief burst of euphoria that comes from landing a crushing blow. In return, however, you gain the satisfaction of acting in a way that displays class and serves as a model for others to follow.
2. Act with integrity when it’s easier to look the other way
Have you ever found yourself uttering this self-talk:
- Just this once, I’ll make an exception.
- But the money is so good.
- Everyone else is doing it.
Most of us act according to a set of morals and principles, even if we can’t articulate them. A class act lives by their principles even when it’s convenient to make exceptions.
It’s tempting to put aside ethics when personal gain looms large, but classy people resist temptation. Peers will come to admire this principled behavior and envy your willingness to sacrifice reward and resist social pressure.
3. Handle defeat with grace and victory with humility
Competition exists everywhere in life. Some folks turn nasty and disparaging in defeat. In victory, their gloating and humblebragging prove equally repulsive.
“That was the worst game I ever played, but still good enough to win. Nice game, by the way.”
Win or lose, demonstrate sportsmanship towards your competitors, whether in sports, life, love, or business. In defeat, don’t make excuses or throw temper tantrums. Recognize when someone outperforms you. Smile if you can, compliment their effort and move on with your life.
In victory, treat your opponent with respect. Never gloat.
If you struggle with sportsmanship, refer to the first rule. Ignore your initial impulse, take a few deep breaths, and think about what action will serve you best.
4. Add personal touches
Fourteen years ago, a business relationship ended with a mentor of mine. After we parted ways, he wrote me a handwritten note:
It was an honor to serve you. Wishing you a prosperous future.
Enclosed with the letter was a bar of my favorite dark chocolate.
Personal touches like that warm us. They make us feel like we matter. That’s how you win fans for life.
Pay attention to small, but significant likes and desires of the people in your life. Write a letter instead of sending an email. Send a holiday card in July instead of December. Add a personal touch to your interactions. That’s class.
5. Stand up for others before anyone else does
Toxic workplaces offer ample opportunity to show you’re a person who defends the victimized. At a former job, I witnessed one of those situations.
A Vice President (a known bully) pulled us into a conference room and began to berate a subordinate over something petty. Another colleague stood up to defend the victim.
Instead of engaging in a bar fight, he refuted the bully’s arguments without attacking him. Soon, others stood up and seconded the defense, robbing the attacker of his last rounds of ammunition.
While it’s admirable to stand up for the victimized, the one who does it first exhibits the highest levels of class.
6. Do good deeds, but don’t seek recognition
Plenty of rich people give enormous sums of money to see their name on a college building. It’s generous, sure, but it almost seems transactional, as if the recognition were a form of payment.
A class-act performs good deeds but doesn’t seek anything in return, nor do they use it as a promotional tool. They’ll pick up trash on the floor when nobody is looking, give an anonymous gift, or secretly help out a friend.
There’s nothing wrong with desiring recognition for your kind actions but approach it as an unexpected side-effect rather than payment for your deed.
7. Create welcoming environments
Throughout my teens and twenties, one consistent feeling pervaded my existence: the sense of always being tolerated but never welcomed. Much of that may have existed in my head, but we’ve all had that feeling at times.
Classy people go out of their way to make sure everyone feels like they’re the most important person in the room.
It’s not as hard as it sounds. Smile when you meet someone. Ask questions that show you’re interested in them. Be gracious. Never play favorites. In short, act as though you’re privileged to share the same space.
8. Be the peacemaker, never the war rattler
Avoid the urge to pick sides in petty squabbles. Play the role of peacemaker. The class act brings calm, clarity, and resolution to tense situations.
When you’re the one who brings all sides to the table and mediates a universally acceptable solution, you emerge as the only winner. You earn respect and admiration for performing a role that others were too childish to consider.
9. Don’t give friends a free pass for shameful behavior
To keep your class act gold card in good standing, you must maintain credibility. Understandably, you’d lean towards ignoring a friend’s hateful comment or reasoning away their shameful behavior, but when you do that, you apply different standards to different people. Nothing will kill your credibility faster.
Apply the same standards to everyone, even if it means making enemies with friends.
In today’s turbulent world, it seems more difficult than ever to follow the principles of classy behavior. While it might be more challenging, the tools remain the same. We just need more people with the will to uphold them.