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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)


Well done!

Thank you for creating this blog and addressing this important issue at annual conference. I believe the information you share can enhance our work and home environment. I suspect the principles apply to any situation we may encounter in life. I look forward to learning more. Thank you. I particularly enjoy the quote about kindness. How true.

• Creating a culture of civility probably requires the liberal application of Karl Marx’s: From each according to his abilities, to each according to his need. While it is not surprising that we have a clear understanding of “equity” and “fairness”, concepts the learning of which seems programmed into 5-8 year olds around the world, it is surprising that as adults we expect civility to be served by giving everyone the same thing, portion, performance expectations, etc. Creating and maintaining civility probably means giving when no one says thank you, frequently carrying more than your fair share, forgiving the incivility of others, and fomenting a quiet revolution of caring for others when they don’t care for you.
• Paradoxically, it also requires not rewarding incivility. Axelrod’s classic study on developing cooperative behavior reported in his book, The Evolution of Cooperation, suggests that quid pro quo behavior is critical to developing cooperation. It is, in short, a fair-trade system.
• How to resolve this dichotomy? I vote for developing a culture of extremely civil confrontation in which one is expected to not back down in the face of the bad behavior of others and in which there is an expectation of resolving conflicts or at least getting the issues out on the table for everyone in the work group to see, discuss, and work towards resolution.
• I am less concerned with curmudgeonly behavior than I am with discourtesies and incivilities that affect productivity… being late or unprepared for meetings; “backdoor” bargaining, especially after decisions have been made; diverting behavior – interrupting work (especially “spill-over” interruptions… loud conversations, music, things abandoned in shared workspace).
• Civility is by definition not easily reduced to rules. It is an attitude that we use to fill in where we don’t have rules. It would be best if there were no rules, only civility. But in a large organization this is improbable at best. So, how about fewer rules and more consideration???