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September 27, 2006

Listen generously

One of the five senses is hearing, but hearing is not the same as listening. Listening is one of the most important, civil things you can do. It is a matter of integrity. It is respecting others. Listening is an art.

Active listening is paying attention to what is said, to vocal tones, to gestures. Make eye contact, focus intently on the person who is talking, and nod your head occasionally. Take in every word and make the person feel as though he or she is the only person who matters at the moment.

Cooperative listening is separating what is important from what is not. Try to understand what the person is saying with words and body gestures. Ask open-ended questions, such as “Why do you think that?” to better understand what the speaker means.

Passive listening is assuming you’ve heard it all before or you’re thinking of something other than what is being said.

Combative listening is listening to find weak points in the other person’s statements when you’re only interested in promoting your own view.

Strive to improve your listening skills today. Listen to what your clients and customers are telling you. Listen and learn….from your studies, at work, in your personal relationships.

There’s even a professional organization whose members are devoted to learning more about the impact that listening has on all human activity, the International Listening Association,

"Listening is a combination of hearing what the other person says and a suspenseful waiting, an intense psychological involvement with the other."
Michael P. Nichols, author and associate professor in department of psychology, College of William and Mary

September 19, 2006

Guest Post about Sexual Harassment

At times, I’ll ask people far more qualified than I to write about topics you’ve suggested. That’s the case with this topic which was recommended at annual conference.

Iowa State University has a sexual harassment policy that covers extension staff. The policy is listed on the Iowa State Web site at

Faculty and staff who have concerns have two options for handling complaints. One is the informal complaint process and the other is the formal complaint process. This is all explained in the policy on the Web site.

To help faculty and staff decide how to handle the concern, the university has established a system of sexual harassment assistors, selected and trained faculty and staff who can help work through the policy information. To identify assistors, go to

Don Broshar, Extension Youth and Community Development Specialist

September 17, 2006

Notes from Civility Sessions at Iowa State University Extension Annual Conference

On September 12 I facilitated two breakout sessions on civility. Eighteen people attended each session. The session opened with Aretha Franklin’s song Respect. We used about 20 minutes for a quiz on how to deal civilly with some specific office situations, and then how respect, ethics and assertiveness contribute to civil behavior. We talked about respecting others is an extension of self-respect. The balance of each session was decided by those attending.

They chose to talk about
1. The irritation of cell phone use in public places
2. Cubicles, the difference among participants in how much noise they can ignore, how talking on the telephone can be intimidating or people resort to e-mail because it’s quiet when the telephone may be the better method of communication
3. The one-dimension of e-mail messages that appear curt but may not be the intention
4. E-mail messages to potential customers need to have some warmth that makes the recipient feel you care about the inquiry
5. Working with someone for a long time (familiarity) may breed contempt
6. How to repair, resolve or bring closure to damaged work relationships
7. How to deal with disrespect at meetings, particularly answering cell phones and e-mail on lap top computers; conversely, do pointless or unnecessary meetings beget people using lap tops to answer e-mail?
8. Receiving long tales of how busy a person is rather than just saying ‘no’ to another project
9. How to deal with difficult people in the workplace
10. How to proactively bring civility to your own office
11. The role of the ombudsmen office at Iowa State
12. Sexual harassment

At the end of the session, each person completed a survey that had 15 questions extracted from a Public Agenda Survey conducted in 2002 and a Baltimore Workplace Civility Study from 2000. I’ll compile the answers from ISU Extension staff and then compare them to the answers from those original studies and post those on this blog.

My notes from the sessions are pretty sketchy so those of you who attended may want to add topics we covered and I’ve missed. This list gives me topics for the future.

September 06, 2006

Why should you care about civility?

Civility improves communications and relationships. A more civil workplace produces a better quality of life. When your quality of life is raised, your job performance improves as well as your engagement at work.

Civility, simply put, is respect for others, says P.M. Forni, professor at Johns Hopkins University.

Incivility impacts morale, retention rates, productivity, and the financial status of an organization or business. Civility in the workplace is good business.

You’re already civil, right?
That’s what I thought until several years ago when I heard Giovinella Gonthier, author of Rude Awakenings: Overcoming the Civility Crisis in the Workplace. She mentioned things I do at work that had never occurred to me to be uncivil.

Did I always greet people I met when I walked in to work or on the way to get coffee?

When I talked on the phone from my cubicle or someone stopped by, did I remember that’s a very public space, that I need to lower my voice or take the conversation elsewhere?

How long had it been since I sent someone a hand-written thank you note? Did I acknowledge those who go out of their way to help me or do an especially good job on a task?

I receive forwarded e-mail inquiries from several offices on campus. I rarely copied the person who sent me the e-mail when I answered the inquiry. Of course, copying that person on campus is far more civil than not communicating or sending back a message simply saying I would answer. He or she knows exactly when the e-mail was answered and perhaps learns something from the response.

Did I go to meetings on time prepared to participate?

Certainly there are far more uncivil actions in the workplace, but compound the incivilities and you’ll realize there are ways to improve your actions, influence those you work with, and improve your quality of life, as well as that of your coworkers and clients.

Forni says one of the most civil utterances of all time is the simple, humble, and smart question ‘What do you think?’ So that’s my question to You….What workplace incivilities drive you crazy? What tips will you share? What do you think?

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” Henry James, novelist and literary critic (1843-1916)