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December 27, 2007

Reflection and gratitude at the close of 2007

Thanks to those who commented during 2007—

I know most of you but it’s exciting to have comments from people I don’t know. And there are more of you who tell me you enjoyed a post or it made you think about a topic.

Thanks to Charles and Dennis for guest posts. Thanks to Bill for suggesting topics, helping shape and reviewing occasional posts.

Thanks to Giovinella Gonthier whose speech in 2003 awakened my passion for civility in the workplace. And to Gary and Ruth Namie who were so gracious to answer my questions and talk about bullying over lunch in Sioux City. And to Fiona Valentine from Western Iowa Tech who arranged that meeting. To Alan Zimmerman for his Tuesday Tips newsletter.

The free lectures and seminars at Iowa State and in Ames are a true inspiration. There are Ames ministers from two churches who have no idea I take notes on Sunday bulletins. Thanks Steve, David and Mary Jane. Sometimes just a phrase comes from a sermon or lecture, sometimes a title and sometimes entire posts.

Thanks to all for the inspiration, the suggested topics, the forwarded stories and newsletters, the quotes and the loan of books (honest, I’ll get to them and return them).

The last three months have been very rewarding. Visits are running between 4,000 and 5,000 per month. Search engine referral visits are running more than 1,000 in each of the last two months. During Nov. visitors came from 47 countries. That month 41 percent of the hits came from commercial domains; 34 percent from network domains and 18 percent from education.

I’m looking forward to a new year with more comments, suggestions and assistance…..and I really hope, additional guest posts.

Want to learn more about civility? Subscribe to this blog's feed, http://www.extension.iastate.edu/mt/civility/atom.xml

December 19, 2007

Nurture quality relationships

Every good relationship ... at home ... or on the job ... is the result of hard work and nurturing. And while there are dozens of skills you can use to build or nurture your relationships, there are three bottom-line rules you absolutely must follow.

Rule #1: Be wary of self-centeredness.

Self-centeredness lies at the root of every deteriorating relationship with your coworkers, friends and family members. When you put yourself in the center of all your thoughts, you start to kill off your relationships.

To make things worse, physicians tell us that self-centeredness, self-love, self-pity and self-interest can easily turn into physical illness.

Rule #2: Give generous amounts of time.
The quality of your time will never make up for the lack of quantity. Good relationships with team members, coworkers, customers, friends and family members take time. Do you have a wonderful relationship just waiting for you ... but you don't have the time for it?

Rule #3: Listen to the other person.
It's one of the best ways to nurture a relationship and affirm caring. Every customer, every team member, every spouse and every friend wonders if you really care about them if you don't take time to listen to them.

One of the greatest gifts you can give another person is the gift of listening. In fact, nothing validates a person's value more than close, caring, undivided attention.

The cab driver who took the time to listen

Twenty years ago, I drove a cab for a living.

When I arrived at 2:30 a.m., the building was dark except for a single light in a ground floor window. Under these circumstances, many drivers would honk once or twice, wait a minute and then drive away. But I had seen too many impoverished people who depended on taxis as their only means of transportation. Unless a situation smelled of danger, I always went to the door.

I walked to the door and knocked. "Just a minute," answered a frail, elderly voice.

I could hear something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 80s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

The old lady asked, "Would you carry my bag out to the car?" I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman.

She thanked me for my kindness. "It's nothing," I told her. "I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother to be treated."

When we got in the cab, she gave me an address and asked, "Could you drive through downtown?"

"It's not the shortest way," I answered quickly.

"Oh, I don't mind," she said. "I'm in no hurry. I'm on my way to a hospice."

I looked in the rearview mirror. Her eyes were glistening. "I don't have any family left," she continued. "The doctor says I don't have very long."

I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. "What route would you like me to take?" I asked. For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing.

Sometimes she'd ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing. As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she said, "I'm tired. Let's go now."

We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building like a small convalescent home with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out as soon as we pulled up.

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair. "How much do I owe you?" she asked, reaching into her purse.

"Nothing," I said.

"You have to make a living," she answered.

"There are other passengers," I responded. Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held on to me tightly.

"You gave an old woman a little moment of joy," she said. "Thank you."

I squeezed her hand, then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life. I didn't pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly, lost in thought. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

On review, I don't think that I have done anything more important in my life. We're conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us.

Great moments catch us ...
if we're willing to give generous amounts of time and really listen to the people in our lives. It's part of the rules that have to be followed if you're going to build positive relationships.

Select two relationships that need more of your time and more of your listening. And then write down three ways you will do each of those things in the next seven days.

Condensed and reprinted with permission from Dr. Alan Zimmerman's 'Tuesday Tip.' As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Zimmerman has worked with more than a million people, helping them become more effective communicators on and off the job. To receive a FREE, subscription to his 'Tuesday Tip' articles, go to http://www.DrZimmerman.com. Or contact him at 20550 Lake Ridge Drive, Prior Lake, MN 55372.

December 18, 2007

7 Habits of Highly Reflective People

Guest post by Dennis Hinkamp
Dennis & Luba.jpg
I think Steven R. Covey has milked the magical “seven habits” about as far as he can go. He’s even added an 8th habit book. It’s time for seven habits that aren’t so centered on self. For the holidays, I give you 7 Habits of Highly Reflective People.

1) Fix something. Fix anything even if it is not the most economical way to solve the problem. Fixing something helps you recycle, reduces the load on the landfills and gives you an incredible feeling of accomplishment. In an increasingly complex world where changing a light bulb labels you "handy," fixing something puts you back in touch with hands that were designed to do more than push buttons. For the mechanically challenged, let me introduce you to Mr. Duct Tape.

2) Actually cook something. Opening cans and boxes and stirring them together is not cooking. Defrosting is not baking. A microwave oven is just a Department of Defense project gone bad. Even if it is only once a week, actually peel a carrot, an onion and a potato and take it from there. If you make a mistake, Pizza Hut is only a phone call away.

3) Walk somewhere. Whatever the question, walking is the answer...exercise, reduced pollution, calmed nerves, parking problems. Think how future archaeologists will judge a civilization that carried bikes on top of its cars and sold stair stepper machines in malls full of escalators.

4) Don't forget the poor. Yeah, we all know somebody who knows somebody who cheats on welfare or who buys beer and cigarettes with their food stamps. But I'll bet dollars to donuts you know just as many middle class, outwardly religious folks who cheat on their taxes "just a little" too. Give at least as much to food banks and shelters as you do to environmental and political causes. Well fed people with meaningful work and hope for the future are more likely to care about the environment.

5) Pray. There I said it. Yeah sure, it is passé' and illegal in schools but it is still great personal time out amidst the howling rhetoric and personal affronts we face each day. Whatever your personal beliefs it will at least make you slow down.

6) Do something for someone older than you. You are becoming your parents faster than you think. Sure our generation will have Nike walkers and Trek Mountain wheel chairs when we reach geezerhood, but we are still going to get old. This is one donation of your time and money that can be completely self-serving. Whatever you do to support the elderly now, will also help you in the future.

7) Do something for someone younger than you. The world will never be in sync until the best teachers are paid and respected more than the worst major league relief pitcher. There are few social ills that can't be solved by education and there are few that can be solved by a mediocre curve ball.

Dennis Hinkamp works in Extension Communications at Utah State University, but worked briefly at Iowa State University Extension Communications March - August 2007 on developmental leave. In addition to his university work, he has been writing the humor/commentary column "Slightly Off Center" for 14 years.

December 14, 2007

When professionals become usurped by self-interest (greed or ego)

A profession is an occupation, vocation or career with specialized knowledge of a subject, field or science. Professional occupations
• usually require prolonged academic training and a formal qualification
• are often regulated by professional bodies that may set examinations of competence and enforce adherence to an ethical code of conduct.

Professions include doctors, nurses, lawyers, accountants, engineers, pharmacists, professors, priests, architects and teachers.

Professions tend to be autonomous

They have a high degree of control of their own affairs, the freedom to exercise professional judgment. Autonomy can embrace judgment, but also self-interest.

A blog developed to support the Trial Advocacy Program at the University of Washington School of Law inspired this post. The Dec. 7 entry ‘NY Judge Rebukes Lawyers, Mourns Drop in Civility’ relates the judge wrote "naked competition and singular economic focus of the marketplace have begun to infiltrate the practice of law …the practice of law is now frequently described as a business rather than a profession." http://trialadnotes.blogspot.com/2007/12/ny-judge-rebukes-lawyers-mourns-drop-in.html

In contrast, some law firms are trying to not hire and rid themselves of lawyers who are no asset to their profession. “…firms are increasingly identifying and addressing concerns involving those attorneys and staff members who, for example, are abusive to co-workers, engage in harmful office politics or act in open and uncompromising self-interest to the detriment of the firm or its employees. What's more, they're doing so regardless of how many hours the offenders bill or how much business they generate.”

A column I linked to last week cited rude and uncollegial behavior in academe. The author doesn’t explain why he thinks professors act in uncivil ways but he does mention self-interest at the closing.

Professionals lose respect
when their primary motives become the quest for money, fame or control rather than helping society. It is sad to see entire professions lose respect. The ones who can halt that disintegration of respect are those within the profession. They need to do that because self-interest actions end up demoralizing staff and ultimately the income of a firm or organization. It’s really all about civility.

December 13, 2007

What is a model for civility?

Guest post continued by the Rev. Dr. Charles Kniker

Have we taken the time to learn what our “opponents” really want? Have we taken the time to analyze our own best weapons? Have we figured out ways that we could move forward constructively without destroying others?

Recall the approach of the writer of I Peter; what we might call kindness is the key. Don’t try to overpower or bowl people over. The writer says when you meet others, be prepared to speak and act with “gentleness and reverence”. A similar sentiment is echoed in the words of Norman Cousins, “The highest expression of civilization is not its art but the supreme tenderness that people are strong enough to feel and show toward one another.”

The keys to civility today

It means more than just being more courteous. Civility is a strong virtue and not wimpy, as Richard John Neuhaus declared. Nor is it “constant deferring” to others.

What then is civility? I believe it consists of three primary behaviors.

The first is a commitment to search for the truth
. As one scholar put it, we should be engaged in a playfulness with and a piety for ideas. Do you recall that famous line from the Bible found on libraries and courthouses -- The truth shall set you free? A high school student in a Bible as Literature class was given a pre-test on famous verses from scripture; in the test, he filled out the blank “the truth shall make you _____” with the word “Shudder”! Indeed, it might. How arrogant it is to believe we have captured every truth. For readers of Hebrew and Christian scriptures, it is foolish to believe no new truths are forthcoming.

The second behavior promoting civility is to act in ways that provide others with as much freedom of conscience as we want for ourselves. Our quest for knowledge, our wish to have freedom, will mean others will not make the same choices we make. We cannot begrudge them that opportunity. One of my concerns has been that some parents want the schools and the church to transmit only what they (the parents) have determined is right. What room is left to explore new ideas? The vision for public education in the United States was that it would provide a place where common ground could be established.

The final leg of this stool of civility is the willingness to respect others.
In our actions with those above us, our equals, those below us, those different from us, we need to exercise respect. A Catholic theologian‘s book on reconciliation noted a number of strategies that separate humans. Using stereotypes and other techniques, we can ultimately “vaporize” individuals, that is, make them disappear because they are so different from us. What I believe he says is that at the heart of civility is a fundamental respect for others… to see them, to hear them, to reach out to them.

If this sounds too pie in the sky, read the 1991 best seller, “Getting to Yes.” Case studies of conflicted marriages, business mergers, international disagreements are settled when parties move from absolutist positions to finding ways in which the interests of both are recognized and addressed. Yes, we can and must be civil if this currently uncivil world is to survive.

This civility post is excerpted from a sermon Charles Kniker delivered in spring 1997 at Faith United Church of Christ in Bryan, Texas, with some revisions he made in Nov. 2007. The Rev. Dr. Charles Kniker has served as pastor of local churches, taught at Iowa State University for 24 years, served as president of Eden Seminary and retired in 2002 as Associate Director of Academic Affairs for the Board of Regents, State of Iowa.

December 12, 2007

Be proactive in nurturing civility

Guest post by the Rev. Dr. Charles Kniker

We’ve all experienced incivility. A store clerk responds curtly. A driver cuts you off. A talk show host spews crude language and torpedoes alternative perspectives. A blog questions a veteran’s patriotism. A schoolbook censor attacks a defending teacher of being an atheist.

Then you hear the purported true story of a truck driver harassed by motorcyclists at a restaurant. They try to provoke a fight by taunting remarks and deliberately spilling coffee over his scrambled eggs. The trucker calmly pays for his meal and leaves. Sneering, a motorcyclist says to the waitress, “He sure wasn’t much of a man.” She replied, “And not much of a driver either; he ran over three cycles as he pulled out.” Admit it….we like that story.

It is no wonder that writers across the theological spectrum have concluded that our national moral compass is broken, our families’ value systems bankrupted. Even in the higher education world, stories abound about the lack of civility, from students’ paying more attention to ipods than lectures to faculty challenging colleagues more with sarcasm than scholarship.

As citizens or members of a faith community, we have a responsibility, if not the duty, to offer a model of civility that can make a difference in our local communities, the nation and the world. But how?

Another time that called for civility
Almost 2000 years ago people in the Roman empire had to answer the same question. It was a world with a growing tapestry of colors, cultures, languages, although there was one dominant political power – Rome. Its leaders dealt harshly with dissenters. To newly converted Christians in Asia Minor, the writer of I Peter offers simple advice, “If you want to survive, be civil.”

In that long ago time, there were many examples of brutal and demeaning behavior by those in power. Listen to his warnings. You will be tempted to use malice, guile, insincerity, envy and slander. You will be tempted to fight evil with evil, curse with curse, lie with bolder lie. Avoid the temptation to act that way, he says. Rather, “conduct yourself honorably . . . so that though they malign you as evil doers, they may see your honorable deeds.”

Strategies people try besides civility
In the centuries since that era, the pages of history are filled with stories of “good” people as well as “bad” people who practiced incivility. Instead of meaningful dialogue, leaders and groups have decided that out shouting or “out slicking” their opponents is the best strategy. In the name of religion, “sinners” have been denied rights. In the American colonies, when some garnered enough power, they banished others. The founders of Harvard and Massachusetts Bay Colony sent Roger Williams off to the “cesspool of New England” -- Rhode Island. They whipped or hanged the Quakers. Plymouth Plantation and founding colleges taught only what was considered to be orthodox. Even the peaceful Quakers denied rights and mistreated persons of other faiths when they had power in Pennsylvania.

Being civil in an uncivil world is difficult. How touching is the story of triumph from M. Angelou’s prize-winning book ‘While the Caged Bird Sings’ which describes how her African-American mother began crooning spirituals rather than respond in kind to the taunts and offensive behaviors of the white youngsters teasing her.

Today America is an athletically-centered, consumer-dominated society that focuses on getting ahead at any cost. That includes sacrificing family at times. It is an uncivil world out there and it seems to cry out for an appropriate type of response. Let’s look at a model.

Continues tomorrow—What is a model for civility? Keys to civility

December 07, 2007

“…academe is often plagued by inexcusably rude and uncollegial behavior…

"One serious consequence of incivility is that you can permanently damage your reputation in an institution after only a few incidents of hotheadedness....

“I am not suggesting that we refrain from speaking out strongly, defending a position, or opposing a policy when necessary. Adversaries need to be opposed, bullies put in their place, abhorrent policies overturned, new policies championed. That is part of the daily work of academe.

“And, yes, malevolent people do exist, as do conspiracies. But assuming the worst of people independent of corroborating evidence is, at best, counterproductive and, at worst, part of the problem.

“Maybe you don't believe that academe should serve as a model of civility for the larger society. So consider it an issue of self-interest -- civility and collegiality are key to helping you get your way in academe.”

--Gary A. Olson, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Illinois State University
The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 4, 2007

It's well worth the time to read the entire column.

December 06, 2007

A customer’s complaint may be the best gift you’ll ever receive

The most common thing to do is to ignore customer complaints or argue about them. Follow these 10 steps instead.

1. Thank the customer.
Instead of focusing on a solution, start by thanking the customer for telling you about his problem. His complaint is a GIFT. He's giving you valuable information. He's giving you a free consulting service, telling you how you can improve. He's even giving you a chance to correct his problem so he can keep doing business with you.

2. Explain your appreciation.
Explain how the complaint will help you improve your service. Say something like, "I'm glad to hear about this because it tells me we need to streamline our shipping procedures."

3. Listen to the customer's story and complaint.

Your customer wants to tell her story. Ask questions to determine the scope of the problem. Repeat the information to make sure you understand what the customer perceives as the problem. You may be tempted to skip the long or emotional story. Don't do it. If you don't listen, she'll find dozens of other people who will. You can't afford that kind of negative publicity.

4. Refrain from argument.
Your customer may be angry and say things that are unfair or untrue. But when he's upset, he wants you to listen ... not tell him why he's wrong. If you let the customer tell his story and express his emotions, there's a better chance he'll calm down and listen.

5. Show you're sorry.
Let the customer know you're sorry there is a problem. As the editors of "The Customer Services Rep's Emergency Survival Guide" say, "You are not admitting error, but simply letting the customer know you regret the situation, no matter what the reason is or where the fault lies."

6. Exhibit some empathy.
Once you've calmed the customer, let him know you understand how he must feel. Say something like, "That must have been so disappointing for you. I can see how that defective part made it impossible for you to finish your work."

7. Find out what the customer wants.
Ask your customer what will meet his needs. At times, customers only want to let you know something happened and how they were inconvenienced. They don't necessarily want anything special from you. But if your customer wants something more, find out what it is. Don't guess. ASK.

8. Explain what you can do.
Do it immediately. If you have to involve someone with more authority, get that person involved. Tell your customer you're going to do whatever you can to make things right. There's ALWAYS something you can do. Your customer knows that. Don't say, "There's nothing I can do." Don't get into an explanation of why you can't do something. It will only add fuel to the customer's anger.

9. Take action.
Once a resolution has been decided upon, set a course of action that is agreeable to your customer. Be specific as to who will do what by when.

10. Check back with the customer.
If you really want to stand out in your customer's mind, check back to make sure he was satisfied with how his problem was handled. And thank your customer for giving you the chance to make things right.

Pick the steps you most need to improve. Write those steps on a card and put the card next to your telephone. The next time a customer calls to complain, look at the card to remind yourself to practice those steps.

Condensed and reprinted with permission from Dr. Alan Zimmerman's 'Tuesday Tip.' As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Zimmerman has worked with more than a million people, helping them become more effective communicators on and off the job. To receive a FREE, subscription to his 'Tuesday Tip' articles, go to http://www.DrZimmerman.com. Or contact him at 20550 Lake Ridge Drive, Prior Lake, MN 55372.

December 04, 2007

Extraordinary holiday gifts

Is there joy scrambling for bargain-counter happiness?
People of the United States are inundated by the ‘stuff’ of consumerism but we purchase more at this time of year. We have lists of people to buy for: family, friends and coworkers and even ourselves.

Gifts should have some thought put into them, some perception of what might bring joy. It’s a connection, a celebration of a relationship. Do you remember what gifts you’ve received or given in the past year? I remember only those that brought joy, maybe even surprise. Some were gifts I gave, some gifts I received.

Rethink the office gifts of habit, obligation and overconsumption
I’ve seen a wide range of gifts in offices. White elephant grab bags. Contributions to a food pantry. I’ve seen the gifts of obligation: coworkers give gifts for every birthday and at holiday time. Years back when I was in an office that wanted to give our boss a gift, we donated money in her name to Iowa Shares, which today is renamed Embrace Iowa.

There are hundreds of projects to help those who truly need help. Give a gift in honor of someone, rather than giving something that will soon be forgotten. Here are two suggestions:

Embrace Iowa
All the money goes directly to families. Embrace Iowa is sponsored by the Des Moines Register, launched in 1984. This program helps Iowans who need immediate financial assistance and are unable to receive help through other programs. In the past benefit items have included beds, clothing, car repairs, medical expenses, furniture, rent, utilities, home repairs and household items. Send contributions to Embrace Iowa, P.O. Box 310149, Des Moines, Iowa 50331-0149.

Alternative Gifts International, http://www.alternativegifts.org
Ames has its own alternative gift market operating with volunteers from 10 churches. (Disclosure: I am one of the volunteers.) In addition to setting up in churches, the Ames market will be open Saturday, Dec. 8 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 508 Kellogg across from the downtown post office.

Select from 35 national and international plus eight local projects. It could be construction materials to stop degradation of watersheds in Afghanistan. Or a cow to improve the lives of poor families in Mozambique. You get a card and a synopsis sheet of the project to send to the recepient.

The local projects are Bethesda Community Food Pantry, Assault Care Center Extending Shelter and Support (ACCESS), Beyond Welfare, Emergency Residence Project, Good Neighbor Emergency Assistance, Habitat for Humanity for Central Iowa, Food at First and Story County Community Dental Clinic.

Give extraordinary gifts
Tangible or intangible, make your gifts meaningful. Kindness and joy are good for both the giver and the receiver.

“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit."
Nelson Henderson, a Canadian who passed this thought on to his son on the son’s graduation day.

Related post
Reason 1 for incivility today...possessions