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The Parking Lot and the Two-block Rule

Yesterday, while teaching a group of prospective business etiquette trainers at our semi-annual Train the Trainer program, one participant referenced “the parking lot” during a discussion. The discussion centered on situations when it is better to delay a conversation than to have it in the moment. For instance, a colleague starts to ask a question about a client contract while you’re riding in an elevator. Other people in the elevator can’t help but hear the question, and most certainly they’ll hear the answer as well. This is a perfect moment to defer the answer by telling your colleague you’re placing it in “the parking lot” where you can get back to it later.

Another time to place a conversation in the parking lot is when it becomes strained or difficult. Cut it off, and take it up later. Why? Because anger tends to beget anger so both people in the conversation become agitated. When that happens, the content of the conversation ceases to be about whatever the problem was and centers on the anger being expressed. That’s the time to end the conversation by putting the issue in “the parking lot.”

What was interesting about this discussion during the training session was that several participants had no idea what we were talking about when they first heard the reference to “the parking lot.” They understood the concept of deferring a discussion until a more appropriate time, but they’d never heard it referred to as “the parking lot.”

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When is it the right time or place to send a conversation to “the parking lot?”

When it’s confidential. Any time the content of a conversation deals with confidential issues—an applicant’s qualifications, details of a contract negotiation, a client’s finances, your company’s finances, problems at work—make sure you’re in a place where others can’t overhear your conversation or defer it until later. That can include your workspace if others within the office can hear you as well as when you are in public or at a client’s or prospect’s offices.

When it’s emotional. Whenever negative emotions like anger take over a conversation, defer it until later. Otherwise the conversation will become about the anger, and there won’t be any resolution of the issue at hand.

One way to be sure to avoid a confidential conversation when you are at a client’s location is to institute the “Two-block Rule:” No assessments or discussions about the client or anything confidential relating to your business until you’re at least two blocks removed from the client’s location. Use the “Parking Lot Rule” to defer confidential or emotional conversations to a more appropriate time or place and the “Two-block Rule” to avoid being caught in an embarrassing situation.

If you have a business etiquette question, please email it to [email protected]

Post’s newest book, The Unwritten Rules of Golf, Morrow, will be available on April 28.

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.

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