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April 29, 2009

Will you stay in touch with those who leave the workplace?

Or in your former workplace if you’re the one who leaves?

Friends are a hot topic in Ames
Last Thursday evening, Jeffrey Zaslow talked about writing ‘The Girls from Ames’, a story of 10 women who graduated from Ames High School in 1981 and although scattered across the country, remain close friends. The women were present and offered glimpses into their friendship. They talked about supporting one another through cancer and how some of the proceeds from the book will go to a new AHS scholarship to remember their eleventh friend who died in her 20s.

Zaslow said he writes about matters of the heart. (He wrote ‘The Last Lecture’ with Randy Pausch.) The book about the Ames friends had been out only a day or two. He said the initial reactions were the book reminded people of their own friends.

Think about your workplace friends through the years
Do you stay in touch?
Frequently or infrequently?
It seems to me we instinctively sort out those we really connect with and those we don’t in any separation of people who work together.

Friendships are important
One of the reasons for incivility is our isolation from others. The not knowing the people next door syndrome, the lack of meaningful friendships.

I encourage you to keep up the friendships that are severed when you no longer work together. Not only will it help with civility, it’s also good for your health. See Friendships: Enrich your life and improve your health from the Mayo Clinic.

And now it’s time to post comments about your former coworkers who are still friends.

April 28, 2009

What do you say to a co-worker who has received a lay-off notice?

Most of us want to ignore that difficult conversation with a colleague who has received a termination notice. Or vent. How you react, to act with civility, depends upon your relationship and the laid-off person’s reaction to the announcement.

If you don’t have close ties, then the laid-off coworker probably doesn’t need to hear from you.
If you have worked closely, talk in person. It’s difficult. The focus needs to be entirely on the person who has been told he no longer has a job.

Gauge your coworker’s reaction to your initial comments. Some people react stoically; some are sad; some are angry. Most are in shock. This is a time to read body language. If it’s obvious the person is having a hard time talking without becoming emotional, then respect that and don’t talk on and on.

If you have close ties to the laid-off worker, offer to help any way you can. Offer to be on call for assistance. It can be as simple as she needs a book she left behind or she wants to talk because she misses conversations about the industry.

Tips to react as a compassionate and empathic coworker
Don’t be inquisitive if you haven’t worked closely with the person.
Talk face to face to read the person’s body language.
Ask “Is there anything I can do to help you now?”
Tell the person you will miss him or her.
Don’t turn the conversation to yourself; it’s not a time to talk about similar situations you’ve experienced.
Don’t offer empty platitudes such as assurance the person will find another job soon or this is actually a good thing.
Respect your coworker’s feelings. Don’t be aggressive about going out to lunch or helping carry out boxes.
Realize it can be very lonely cleaning out a cubicle so don’t abandon a good friend by ignoring him.
Contact the person later to continue the relationship. It’s a shock to leave the workplace and the usual conversations.

The only advice I found on this topic
How to talk to a friend who's been laid off

April 24, 2009

Celebrating people in action

That’s the theme of National Volunteer Month. A web site launched last summer has detailed information on how and where Americans volunteer.

I should have included volunteering in my list of things to do to get away from screen times this week.

When people are worried about jobs, debt and lots of other things, volunteering is a good stress reliever.

“Evidence suggests that volunteering has a positive effect on social psychological factors, such as one’s sense of purpose. In turn, positive social psychological factors are correlated with lower risks of poor physical health. Volunteering may enhance a person’s social networks to buffer stress and reduce risk of disease.”*

Iowa ranks 6th in the nation for volunteer work
The average Iowan volunteers 38.3 hours per year.
Lots of interesting information and research findings on the web site, www.volunteeringinamerica.gov.

Plan to volunteer …..very soon.
And should it be with a group of coworkers…..all the better.

*Corporation for National and Community Service, Office of Research and Policy Development. The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research, Washington, DC 2007.

April 20, 2009

Time to uplug--it’s 2009 Turnoff Week

The goal: don’t use screened media for recreation. So that’s the television, computer games, social media sites, handheld devices….you get the picture.

What should you do with all this time you will have?
Sit on the porch
Play a board game
Read a book
Visit with the neighbors
Work in your yard or garden
Clean house
Ride a bike
Go to a lecture, concert, baseball game
Work on a jigsaw puzzle
Exercise—swim, do yoga, take a walk
Listen to music, make music
Visit a library, an art exhibit, a park

What does this have to do with civility in the workplace?
P.M. Forni, founder of the Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, cites 11 reasons as the cause of rudeness in his 2008 book ‘The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude’.
“…stress is a major cause or catalyst of hostility, incivility and bullying.”

Here’s a great lead-in to an article in an online newsletter out of the United Kingdom:
“Just when they thought things couldn't get any worse, many organizations are seeing employee morale plummet as long hours, anxiety, uncertainty and stress sends productivity and engagement levels through the floor.”

Another reason Forni cites as a cause of rudeness is not needing others. “..we feel that we do not need others that much as long as an alluring and comforting screen keeps burning bright at the very heart of our lives.”

Physical and mental activity in your away from work hours, talking to people—those kinds of things will help you return to work with a more civil attitude.

Make a concerted effort this week to turn off the screens
I’ll try too. Just think of the things we might do. Let me know how that goes and what you did with your time.

From Nielson 2006
The average U.S. household has 2.55 people.
The average U.S. household has 2.73 televisions. (Maybe that will drop with HD TV?)

Center for Screen-Time Awareness, www.screentime.org

April 16, 2009

What happens before you get to work?

What’s the atmosphere at home?
I think about coworkers who have small children trying to get them prepared for the day and off to where they need to be. I think about the one year my son was a freshman and one daughter was a senior in high school. I live maybe several miles, at most, from the high school. I would drop them off and be glad I had not physically injured them. They bickered at home. They bickered on the ride to school… seemingly every single day. It was a really tough year to arrive at work in a good mood. Although it was a relief to be there.

And what about getting to work?
Is there a troublesome intersection for you where it would be easy to become upset? I heard a great story recently of a man who had to make a left turn into heavy traffic. Cars and cars would go by and he’d not be able to get on his way. Once in a while someone would give him room to get out into traffic. He thought about that a bit and reflected that if the roles were reversed, he probably wouldn’t let his car out into traffic. He concluded he should be more accommodating to other drivers.

This is one of those empathy situations.
Think about what those you work with may have contended with before they arrived at work. The dog ran away. They missed the bus. Their spouse was ill. If they look disheveled or out of sorts, there may be good cause. All the more reason to hold a door, give a nice ‘good morning’, be quick to make some coffee. Put some civility into the beginning of the work day for others…and ultimately yourself. You’ll feel better and hopefully they will also.

April 14, 2009

Community, values and childhood dreams

That’s what my book club talked about last night. The book: ‘The Last Lecture’ by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow. Pausch was a professor of computer science, human computer interaction and design at Carnegie Mellon University. His last lecture “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” in September 2007 became an Internet sensation. He talked to his coauthor on his cell phone as he took bike rides to create the book. Pausch died at age 47 in July 2008 from pancreatic cancer.

Building community
Randy did that in his courses by having students work in groups and the groups changed every several weeks. The students had to relate to one another in person, people of different majors and different backgrounds and experiences. They evaluated one another.
“Rights have to come from somewhere, and they come from the community. In return, all of us have a responsibility to the community….Everyone has to contribute to the common good. To not do so can be described in one word: selfish…When we’re connected to others, we become better people.”

Living your values
• Have dignity.
• Play fair.
• Be inquisitive.
• Be charitable. “There is more than one way to measure profits and losses. On every level, institutions can and should have a heart.”
• Encourage creativity and enthusiasm.
• “There is a skill set called ‘leadership.’…(he) knew how to delegate, had the passion to inspire and …established the vision, the tone. He was in charge of morale…..(he) knew what he didn’t know, was perfectly willing to admit it, and didn’t want to leave until he understood. That’s heroic to me.”
• Find a Dutch uncle, someone who gives you honest feedback.
• There’s a real power in humility.
• “The kind of people I want on my research team are those who will help everyone else feel happy to be here.”
• Do respectful, considerate things that will be appreciated by the recipient. Only good things can result.
• Tell the truth all the time. “..my dad always taught me that when there’s an elephant in the room, introduce it.”

Achieving your childhood dreams
Do any of us remember our childhood dreams? How long is childhood—end of grade school, high school?

Take two hours and read the book. It’s entertaining and insightful. And so much will make you think about matters of civility and how to savor life and the lessons along the way.

April 07, 2009

Good communication at heart of civility

Excellent rhetorical skills, conversation balanced between prying and aloof, emotional good judgment…

All these things were points of the chair of the department of communications studies at Northwestern. Marc Hansen of the Des Moines Register interviewed him for a column in yesterday’s newspaper. It’s titled ‘Civility is essential value of democracy’.

It’s worth reading or a second reading if you’ve read it once.

And the comments left on this article on the Register’s site?
They reinforce the point of the article. You may disagree with the columnist, with the newspaper….but how you word the response very quickly sets the tone as civil or rude.

April 02, 2009


A masquerade makes you think it’s something it’s not. It’s a disguise or something concealed.

David Kundtz in his book “Stopping: How to Be Still When You Have to Keep Going” explains a masquerade is like a pile of rocks that gets bigger and bigger. When does that pile of rocks become a mountain?

He says the pace, demands and choices today are a masquerade making us believe we should be able to juggle more each day but really these demands have become something else. We just don’t realize it.

Never-ending tasks create stress which can lead to incivility
Are you on holiday if you call in or answer email? Are you communicating if you don’t listen to the responses? Does participating in social networking sites make you social? More masquerades.

Kundtz advocates stopping. “Stopping is doing nothing as much as possible, for a definite period of time (one second to one month) for the purpose of becoming more fully awake and remembering who you are.”

He says ‘doing nothing’ should not be confused with a total lack of activity. Stopping lets you get in touch with the essential meanings of your life and remember what is truly important so you can keep your priorities in order. It helps you know what you want to achieve and how you want to behave.

Are you simply moving through your days or experiencing them?
Time spent doing nothing can awaken what is most meaningful and valuable to you. It allows you to slow down so you don’t miss the important things. Stopping is moments of remembering, awareness and contemplation. It can be a time of critical reflection.

Sometime in the next several days (if not today), I encourage you to try stopping.