December 01, 2009

Letting go of control with civility

Thanksgiving was memorable and different. My daughters took over my kitchen. They devised an extensive menu despite living more than 500 miles apart. They’d assigned their college student brother two easy menu items. My job was to stock the refrigerator and cupboards with basics and thaw the turkey.

These two watch cooking shows and read cookbooks as if they were novels. For a day and a half they prepared food and consulted their menu taped to a cupboard door. My first pangs of not being in control hit when one asked me to take the turkey out of the brine and get it in the oven early on the second morning. It would not be stuffed. How can you have a Thanksgiving turkey without my mother’s stuffing? I’d worked hard to get that recipe. One Thanksgiving years ago I sat at mom’s farmhouse kitchen table and quizzed her on every ingredient and approximate amounts since she wasn’t measuring anything.

I took the dog on a long walk on the second day and thought as I came back towards home that I could set the table. I came in the door to find they’d already selected china, had a centerpiece and the drawer with table linens was open with napkins laying about. Apparently some task in the kitchen had taken the table setter away from a final decision on napkins.

Somewhere in the haze of food preparation, I was asked to find my mom’s recipe for salad delicious—this is a 1950s green Jell-o concoction. (Something of my heritage would be on the table.) And as meal time approached, I was called to the kitchen to make gravy. I am, after all, the only one with a home ec degree.

“To be open inspires credibility and trust;
to be closed fosters suspicion and mistrust.” -- Stephen M.R. Covey, 'The Speed of Trust'

Covey writes you can evaluate your openness with questions such as:
• Do I believe that the way I see the world is totally accurate and complete—or am I honestly willing to listen to and consider new viewpoints and ideas?
• Do I seriously consider differing points of view, and am I willing to be influenced by them?
• Do I believe there may be principles that I have not yet discovered? Am I determined to live in harmony with them, even it if means developing new thinking patterns and habits?
• Do I value---and am I involved in—continual learning?

The Thanksgiving tale is a simple one of being open to new ideas, of the power of differing views and being open to something new and different. Covey’s questions applied to the workplace can bring powerful results if you practice civility—listening and respecting the ideas of others.

P.S. After long hours in the kitchen, the girls called in the rest of the family and friends both evenings to play (new and different) board games. Both daughters told me this was the best Thanksgiving ever. I’d agree.

November 03, 2009

No excuses today – go vote if you’ve not already

We have excuses. Too busy to thank someone who helped. It’s not convenient to go that route. We don’t have time to help others.

You have to start somewhere in doing the important things in life. Being a citizen who votes should be at the top of any American’s list. Read up on the candidates and where to vote. Do it. It’s an act of civility for your community and its future.

October 07, 2009

10 core values and competencies to increase civility and job security

1. Be honest
You’re being paid to work, not to surf the Web, write personal emails, talk on the phone to friends and family.
Don’t take food that is not yours.

2. Have empathy
Know who benefits from your work and try to see things from their perspective.
Your boss may be stressed with new duties, fearful about the economy. Know your boss’ top priorities.
Customer may be as confused and unhappy with changes as you are. Try to look at the situation from their perspective.

3. Be curious
Ask how things are done, why they are done that way.
Seek new perspectives.

4. Be proactive
Defuse a bad situation.
Ask to meet with your boss to admit you can’t get all the work done or you are behind; that’s a huge relief to the boss.
Be professional with unhappy customers.

5. Think about interdependence
How will your actions affect other people?

6. Show initiative
How do you think you could be most helpful to the organization and your boss?
Can you exchange one task for another?
If you point out problems, suggest at least one possible solution.

7. Be positive
An employee with a bad attitude affects customers, coworkers and bosses.
New boss? Listen with an open mind to plans and how you can fit, help out, provide history when needed, set realistic not inflated goals of what you can do.

8. Think before you speak
Listen more than you talk. Very few people like constant jabber.
Don’t provide too much information, particularly personal information.

9. Show up on time
Be reliably prompt to work and to meetings.

10. Seek opportunity in the good times and tough times
Be strong and resilient.
Search the situation for something to learn or some other way to benefit.

This is part of my presentation today promoting civility in the workplace at the Iowa State University Extension Office Assistants Development Conference.

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. “ 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.

March 27, 2009

Maya Angelou on civility

"It would behoove us all to learn some grace," she says. "Grace is not just posture. It really is civility and that's civil rights at the highest level. Civility, courtesy, well-chosen words, kindness, interest in other human beings, not just interest in oneself."

People, she says, ought to look less at possessions and more toward one another for personal fulfillment.

"It's time for us to stop looking at things ... and look at human beings. Look at the children. Look at the men. Look at the women."

Angelou, who will turn 81 on April 4, teaches at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. She captured the world's attention when she read a poem she composed for President Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration.

This is from a Detroit Free Press March 8 article ‘Maya Angelou, in Detroit next week, reflects on life, grace and self-esteem’.

January 20, 2009

Lesson from Obama: Surround yourself with smart people and listen to them

Before the Iowa caucuses, the Barack Obama campaign had an evening that Iowa precinct captains could gather people to hear Obama on an audio link. It was what we’ve come to know as Barack style: succinct but meaningful. He made three points in that short presentation. The one that impressed me the most was his philosophy for making decisions. I can’t find my notes from that session, but he makes that point over and over. This is from a conversation with Britain's Conservative Party leader David Cameron at the Houses of Parliament in London, Saturday, July 26, 2008.

OBAMA: "The truth is that we've got a bunch of smart people, I think, who know ten times more than we do about the specifics of the topics. And so if what you're trying to do is micromanage and solve everything then you end up being a dilettante but you have to have enough knowledge to make good judgments about the choices that are presented to you."

Civility is respecting others
It was refreshing to hear that more than a year ago and it’s just as refreshing today. Here is a man who today becomes our president who surrounds himself with those who know more than he does on any number of topics. He listens to them. He’s smart and has some knowledge of the topic but he looks to people with expertise in areas he does not have.

There’s humility there, being able to acknowledge he’s not an expert on all things. Another mark of civility.

In many actions leading to this inauguration, Obama has copied actions of President Abraham Lincoln. This is a Lincoln concept: picking the best and the brightest and not necessarily those that agreed with each other or him because he was a leader. It doesn’t mean everything will go smoothly. Look at Lincoln’s experience with generals in the Civil War. But ultimately, the man was smart enough to make real progress for his country.

I think Obama will be a decider, but in an entirely new manner with lots of civility.

P.S. dilettante, dabbler, sciolist, (an amateur who engages in an activity without serious intentions and who pretends to have knowledge)

P.P. S. Isn’t Obama’s command of the English language impressive?

September 16, 2008

Likeable people enjoy better health

One of the reasons likeable people often enjoy better health than unlikeable people is self-esteem. When you’re likeable, likeability is reciprocated and that in turn increases self-esteem. That helps withstand stress.

People high on the agreeableness scale (positive, good-natured, cooperative, civil) tend to make friends easily and often have a larger number of friends than those low on agreeableness. Popular people have stronger immune systems, fewer physical ailments, lower incidence of mental health problems and live longer than loners and introverts.

Having good relationships improves health and lifts depressions. One of the greatest benefits of likeability is a social support system that provides a lifeline to help through tough times.

The Likeability Factor: How to Boost Your L-Factor and Achieve Your Life’s Dreams
By Tim Sanders
Crown Publishers, New York 2005

September 12, 2008

Are you relevant?

Relevance is….
your capacity to connect with others’ interests, wants and needs

When you’re relevant, you’ve connected to someone’s sweet spot—that area of the heart and mind in which passions are concentrated, the bull’s-eye in each of us that represents something significant.

Relevance has three levels—contact, mutual interests and value

Contact is based on frequency and proximity (how often you see another person face-to-face).

Some people will be more relevant than others depending upon the strength of the connection. When people connect with a trivial interest or need, they are less relevant. You have a higher level of relevance with mutual interests, a friend or relative, or a political or religious belief.

Relevance is strongest when a personal value proposition that you offer connects with another person’s wants and needs. If you possess a skill that will help someone complete a task, you are relevant. If you appeal to someone’s need to laugh, your relevance is your sense of humor. As your importance grows, so does your likeability. Your personal stock price rises in another soul’s marketplace.

Relevance is finding a way to matter. The ability to know what others dream about or agonize over is a form of intelligence possessed by relevant people.

The critical elements that shape your likeability factor--
No. 1 Friendliness
No. 2: Realness
No. 3: Empathy
No. 4: Relevance

Post 7 inspired by ‘The Likeability Factor: How to Boost Your L-Factor and Achieve Your Life’s Dreams’ by Tim Sanders.

September 09, 2008

Walk a day in someone else’s shoes: empathy is likeability factor No. 3

Empathy is....
your ability to recognize, acknowledge and experience other people’s feelings

Think of films or books that have moved you to crying or laughing, applauding. You have felt another person’s pain or joy. You see life through the character’s eyes and you are sensitive to his or her feelings, desires, ideas and actions. The secret lies in imagination to boost your empathy factor.

If you’re sympathetic, you feel compassion for another but it’s your feelings. If you’re empathetic, you are projecting yourself into another’s heart as though you’re in that person’s shoes. The first step toward understanding how others feel is recognizing their emotions. You can’t fake true understanding of another’s feelings.

People convey seven types of emotion via the face

Three regions of the face that communicate all these emotions are the forehead, eyes and mouth.

Press mute
And listen. Think about what other people say and how they must feel. Concentrate on the other person’s feelings and keep yourself, your situation and your feelings out of a listening conversation. If someone always replies with a similar story or situation, I’m pretty sure they’re listening only to be able to give a response about their own feelings or experiences.

Rudeness and incivility convey a lack of sensitivity and empathy.

Post 6 inspired by ‘The Likeability Factor: How to Boost Your L-Factor and Achieve Your Life’s Dreams’ by Tim Sanders.

September 04, 2008

Are you real? (Part 2)

Be true to others to maintain a high level of realness
1. Don’t forget your past. We all have ups and downs. Keep the link between today and yesterday’s experiences and the people in your past.
2. Share your glory. Would the outcome have been different if others had been absent from the story? Recognize those people.
3. Practice humility. It’s between false modesty and false pride. Those who have an inflated view of their value and their accomplishments are generally perceived as out of touch with reality.
4. Don’t exaggerate. Embellishing stories to the point of tall tales leads others to question everything you say.
5. Learn to say, “I don’t know.” People who are honest about their lack of knowledge on a particular topic are judged very real. Think of former television host Johnny Carson who often said to a guest, “I did not know that!”
6. Be honest when you make a promise. Follow through or confess you can’t as soon as you decide you will not be able to keep your word.
7. Recruit a reality coach, someone you trust who will give you fast and honest impressions.

Share your realness---now we’re really down to civility
Be totally present with someone when you talk, no distractions.
Admit your mistakes to yourself and to others face to face. Seek solutions on your own and suggestions from others. Correct your mistakes.
Be generous with yourself. Share your emotions, your beliefs, your dreams, your fears.

September 03, 2008

Are you real?

Likeability factor No. 2: Realness is
the integrity that stands behind your likeability and guarantees its authenticity.

A real person is genuine, true and authentic. Real people know their roots, heritage and history; they don’t forget them. They know their values and behave accordingly. A real person is sincere and trustworthy.

When you give others your trust, you do it for yourself. You trust people so you can get on with your life. When you encounter someone you don’t trust, you wear yourself out trying to decipher the truth. The five characteristics that contribute to a listener’s perception of trust are expertness, reliability, intention, dynamics and likeability.

What shows a lack of realness?
Lying—everything the person has ever said to you is called into question.
Hypocrisy—you notice when others don’t act out what they said they believe.
Insincerity---you’d rather have someone tell you the truth rather than treat you as if they can’t because you’ll be upset or can’t cope with perceptions or facts.

Be true to yourself
Who are you? You need to know the answer.
One of the exercises Tim Sanders asks you to do in his book ‘The Likeability Factor: How to Boost Your L-Factor and Achieve Your Life’s Dreams’ is write the answers to questions such as these:
• What do you talk about when the conversation is about values?
• What do you stand for that separates you from others?
• If you give money to a cause, what kind of cause is it and why do you make that contribution?
• What was the last piece of advice you gave someone that you felt strongly about?

August 28, 2008

Explaining a higher form of leadership to a high school student

“I really don’t have a leadership role this year,” the 4-H’er explained to his panel of three interviewers.

His dad was a club leader. They’d talked about the son not taking an office in the 4-H club in this the son’s senior year in high school. He’d already held most of the club offices. The father and son thought it was time to involve younger 4-H’ers. He said he was helping the new officers learn their roles. That he probably was a role model for the younger members.

This high school student was unassuming and terribly honest. I suspect he’d dreaded being asked about leadership in the project awards interview because he was certain he was not exhibiting leadership this year.

I told him I believed it was a higher form of leadership he exhibited…to step aside, to mentor younger members and to be a role model. His response? “Thank you.”

Sometimes in the interviews of high school and entering college freshmen students, I worried about how leadership had been explained to them. That it doesn’t have to involve being elected or selected for a special position. That it doesn’t mean doing everything on your own.

And then I found the few
They told me leadership means responsibility, listening to others, evaluating why plans failed, being role models, learning as well as teaching, involving others, adapting as needed, passing on roles to others.

One student told us she thought there was a misconception that being a leader means you take charge. She emphasized a leader works with others and makes sure everyone is involved.

Indeed, I believe she had leadership right. It’s putting civility in the equation. A true leader works with and empowers others to reach mutual goals.

August 26, 2008

Likeability personified…in a high school 4-H’er

The high school senior closed the door of the interview room leaving the team of three evaluating 4-H state project awards.

“Charisma, what charisma!” said the interviewer to my right. The first word I’d written on his evaluation form was WOW! He was one of many 4-H’ers vying for state project awards.

What set this applicant apart from the 12 others my team interviewed?
• The intensity of his focus on the questions…the look you in the eye…I am listening to every word, not picking up just a few of the words
• The contemplation before answering questions, with hand gestures to signal he was thinking
• The cohesive focus of his answers

It was a 10-minute interview I wish we had recorded for others to see. Particularly those who jeopardized their chances of getting an award because they told us everything remotely related to a question.

Knowing when to observe a rest (as in music)
With many we interviewed, we couldn’t get to all the questions we wanted to ask. I resorted to finding slight pauses and inserting a new question with some applicants. It’s the art of focusing on the question, answering it succinctly and stopping. No rambling answer. Just stopping.

Early on in the interviews, it became apparent we’d have a really difficult time in the 10-minutes we were allowed, asking pertinent questions one needs to cover for 4-H evaluations. 4-H focuses on life skills. The common skills vital to every project are communication, community service and leadership. We needed to cover those aspects as well as the project area, whether it be beef or pets or clothing. Sometimes the student was applying for leadership, communication or community service, so those interviews didn’t demand as many questions.

Civility factors---intense listening, thinking before answering, focused and brief answers
The WOW applicant had many more attributes to be labeled charismatic, but the civility with which he dealt with questions was a start anyone can practice. And that includes many beyond their high school years. And in simple every-day conversation.

July 22, 2008

Time for history or ignore it?

You get a project that a coworker has worked on… start a new job or a volunteer role…

Is there anything to be learned from history or what those preceding you did?

A parallel, perhaps more understandable question
Do you need training or education for a job or can you just do the work?

Consider volunteer roles
Positions are constantly filled by different people. How did the organization get to this policy or practice? I had such a question recently. I could have spent days researching. I could have decided I didn’t care, but that seemed arrogant to me. And then flipping through the binders of materials handed to me….there on one sheet was the summary answer to my question which helped me understand the policy.

Consider the workplace
More than a year ago I started coordinating and posting news releases on the national extension Web site, I was the first person to have that job. How could I frame this new position if I didn’t understand how eXtension (pronounced e-extension) came to be, the goals, the vision?

Idiomatic metaphors come to mind---
• Reinventing the wheel
• Throwing the baby out with the bathwater
• Can’t see the forest for the trees

I believe it’s a dichotomy to declare one must have a specific level of education or experience to hold a job but ignore the history.

Valuing history is a component of civility
It says humility; there is something to be learned from others, what they know and what they have recorded. It’s respect. It’s efficient because you have a logical direction. I want good results; history gives me a shortcut to get there.

It’s a timeless debate. Consider these quotes--

"The function of the historian is neither to love the past nor to emancipate himself from the past, but to master and understand it as the key to the understanding of the present." Edward Hallett Carr, British historian (1892-1982)

"History is more or less bunk." Henry Ford, U.S. automobile industrialist (1863-1947)

"What experience and history teach is this---that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it." Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, German philosopher (1770-1831)

June 19, 2008

We are the Keepers of the Seven Generations

Art by Debra-Ann Pine, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians on 1996 USDA NRCS poster

“Trails lead anywhere. We need to know where we’ve been to move forward,” Tribal Chairman Frank Ettawageshik, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. June 11, 2008

Seven generations are important to many indigenous North Americans.
There are always seven generations alive walking through time.

A core tenant of life---any decision which might impact the lives of The People should be looked at and considered from the perspectives of the very old, the very young, those in the middle, those who have passed from this world and those who are waiting to come in.

Looking ahead seven generations
Ettawageshik talked about long-range planning and the consequences of today’s actions as caretakers of the earth’s resources. What we do affects people for 120 to 140 years, seven generations in the future. He said Native Americans have the freedom to govern themselves. They may choose wisdom or be as dumb as can be. “This is a moment in history. This configuration of people will not happen again.”

He said it takes involvement, caring and communication to make good decisions.

Rule of civility: respect the environment
Anishinaabe peoples live as tribal governments or bands in the northern United States and southern Canada, chiefly around the Great Lakes and Lake Winnipeg. The Anishinaabe honor those who have walked ahead of them, respect those who walk with them and consider those yet to come.

Frank Ettawageshik’s ancestors passed on the role of taking care of the Great Lakes. “In traditional teachings and in the Anishinaabe world, we’re taught that water is the lifeblood of Mother Earth. People don’t understand how fragile our Great Lakes ecosystem is,” Ettawageshik said. He sums it up:
• If it’s harmful, don’t do it.
• If we’re already doing it, stop.
• If we’ve already made a problem, clean it up.

May 20, 2008

The intrigue of humility

One Monday my book club discussed ‘The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town’ by John Grisham. It’s Grisham's first work of nonfiction. It focuses on the tragedy of Ron Williamson, a baseball hero from a small town in Oklahoma. Williamson became a dissolute, mentally unstable Major League washout put on death row for a hometown rape and murder he did not commit.

In typical understated fashion, Allen, one of the book club members, said, “Many mistakes can be made when you have arrogance and incompetence.” He was talking about the law enforcement officers, the attorneys and the judges involved in the original trials in Ada, Oklahoma.

The minute Allen said that, I thought what a terrific observation of far more than this book. Allen is a distinguished professor of animal science but he won’t tell you that. If I had to describe him in three words, I would say smart, humble and kind.

We probably all know arrogance and incompetence too well so let’s focus on humility, a component of civility.

What is humility?
Modest and unassuming in attitude and behavior about one's status or accomplishments
A quality expressed by a person who doesn't feel it necessary to talk about his accomplishments or experiences. A humble person isn't concerned about himself but shows respect and deference towards others.

I think the humble often are the first to believe there is always more to contemplate and learn. They tend to be really interesting people because they are curious and because you don’t know everything about them. And they’re the ones I want to be around at work and everywhere, actually.

How many humble people do you know? Would anyone describe you as humble?

May 06, 2008

Jump-starting a new job

Typically you think about how an organization prepares to welcome a new employee by having a computer ready and a schedule of orientation meetings. I’ve just witnessed the other side—a new employee who jump-started a job by his preparation and approach.

The new employee is an interim minister for a congregation of 350 that has seven governing boards. Churches, in my experience, have turf battles and members with different passions….and history. I think you can equate that to many offices, departments, organizations. In the past several weeks, I’ve observed this man approach his new job with professionalism and civility.

Professional approach
He started preparation before he went on the payroll. He requested a list of documents several weeks before he reported to work. He silently observed relationships and interactions at worship services and several workshops…and there he probably had an advantage over most jobs.

Approaching the job with civility
When he officially began this job, he didn’t offer opinions or voice assumptions but asked insightful questions. On his second day at work, he asked me a difficult question, ‘Who are the five most influential people in your congregation?’ My answer, when I had thought about it long enough, was probably how you’d answer for many work places. The most influential do not necessarily hold positions you assume would assure influence. The people I named had earned respect for their leadership exhibited by their work, passion and levelheaded, insightful thinking.

Questions that benefit the organization

If you are receptive to the questions of a new employee, you can look at your organization anew. Who's in charge of what? Why are things the way they are? Who can help explain this? Do you do that? When you try to answer those questions, you see problem areas that were previously invisible to you.

Maybe I should have titled this ‘instant trust and rapport’ because that’s my assessment of how he jump-started this job.

(Trust and rapport are powerful---posts to follow.)

April 22, 2008

It’s Earth Day—Reduce Waste

The first Earth Day in 1970 is credited with making environmental issues a priority in the politics of the United States government. Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, was the founder of the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. At a conference in Seattle in September 1969, Nelson announced that in the spring of 1970 everyone was encouraged to participate in a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment. Twenty million demonstrators and thousands of schools and local communities participated in the first Earth Day event.

The two things I see gaining momentum………that everyone can do---including at the office
Use reusable bags and containers.
Whether you’re shopping for groceries or office supplies, take bags for your purchases. The bags are being sold at grocery store check out counters and other stores. When I purchased my first ones, the Fareway bag boy tore off the plastic strips holding the tops together and packed my groceries. I thought, “This kid really gets it.” Or he was trained well by Fareway.
Earthdaynetwork lists what you can do
• Reuse your plastic shopping bags: use them for trash, for storage rather than buying others that are more energy wasting.
• Use paper bags rather than plastic bags when you are given the choice.
• Use reusable grocery bags, which always have a lower environmental impact.

Drink from washable cups and tumblers.
• Bottled water is rapidly losing favor as I wrote about last fall for Blog Action Day. Unnecessary plastic bottles waste energy in their creation and litter the earth in disposal. That post: We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.
• Take your thermos bottle or insulated cup to the local coffee shop on your way to work. Offer coffee in ceramic cups or mugs to guests in meetings.

I’m rapidly questioning premium items we use for marketing our organizations. Do these items serve their purpose or do they get tossed fairly quickly? Just think about it before you place orders or snatch them up at exhibits. Are there more earth-sensitive ways to promote organizations and businesses?

Choose civility. Make every day earth day.

February 29, 2008

Time and civility: 7 tips on Leap Day

Does it take extra time to be civil?
You should be able to streamline your work with civility.

1. Communicate clearly and fully. The more information you provide initially, the less time you’re troubled responding to requests for information. Share pertinent information you receive.

2. Get buy in. Involve others in decision-making so they understand the background and will take pieces of the work.

3. Delegate. Empower others to do a job and follow up without micromanaging their work.

4. Be assertive. Say no politely, no you don’t have time to take on that project, no you don’t have time to talk now, make decisions.

5. Be mindful. Prioritize, plan, know your deadlines and then concentrate on the work of the moment.

6. Think from the end-user’s point of view not your point of view. It’s about efficiency of processes. What would that person want to know, what would he find confusing about what you’ve written or designed? Is what you’re doing right now something that benefits the end-user or should it not be done?

7. Manage the balance between work and personal time. Know your priorities in each.

Enjoy Leap Day.

February 28, 2008

Mindfulness, living in the moment

Do you drive downtown and automatically head to the grocery store, only to remember you were really going to the library? Or arrive home and can’t remember going through that major intersection? I do these things and expect some of you do too.

Mindfulness is focusing on the moment. When you go on a walk, observe animal tracks and the sky and hear the birds rather than thinking about work or people. When you eat, enjoy the taste and texture of the food.

It’s hard work to be mindful
Remember a time you lost yourself in work? You were oblivious to email, to the message light on your phone, to others around you.

That is mindfulness, a supreme focus. You’re not thinking about the past or the future but intent on the moment right now.

We’re all involved in change all the time
Instead of wishing things were the way they used to be or being restless waiting for something to happen or making assumptions, mindfulness means you concentrate on this time to observe and gauge the atmosphere. If you live in this moment, you’ll be more perceptive and better able to deal with change.

Civility is respect. Mindfulness is respect for the moment.

Try to be mindful at times today
• When you talk to someone
• When you are on the phone
• When you are in a meeting

Let me know how you do being mindful.

February 21, 2008

A civility story about parking

Anne Adrian out of Auburn University wants to tell more stories in her blog. I’ve not told many stories. Should I? Anne is making me think about it. (Anne’s Spot: Authentic blogging, Jan. 21, 2008,

A civility story
A coworker and I acted as companions for five job candidates yesterday. Joani and I talked the day before about kindnesses we could extend to make the candidates feel at ease. Joani suggested we send emails to each of our respective candidates to explain when and where we’d meet each one. How we’d escort him or her to the first interview and guide each candidate to the various meetings. Terrific idea.

We talked about parking at our building, which involves many rules and university permits. I said I’d tackle that. I discovered for $10 I could get one parking meter ‘hooded’ for the day. Our candidates would have a space to park despite the many activities scheduled in our building.

Sure enough…yesterday, when I got to work there was one meter hooded. I drove across campus to the Iowa State Center where the interview process started for the candidates. Into the parking lot and there, before my eyes, were some six billion vehicles in the lots surrounding the buildings. Not just vehicles……..but all the accumulated snow and ice. BIG pickup trucks everywhere…parked jutting from one side and then the other into the driving paths. Not only was there no close-in parking, but driving down a row was a challenge course to see if you could make it without scraping your vehicle on someone else’s.

For all our thoughtful planning, we’d missed checking the schedule at the Iowa State Center to gauge the parking situation. I don’t know that it’s even possible to reserve a space there, but next time we’ll think about parking at all locations.

Do you have stories of civility? Or want me to tell more stories of civility?

January 21, 2008

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. through his words

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. often talked about components of civility. These are quotes of his I particularly like….dealing with love, self-esteem, respect, integrity, kindness and citizenship.

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

“We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr., American civil rights leader and Baptist minister (1929 – 1968)

January 09, 2008

We lose in every way when we lose trust

Dave Horsager was the keynote speaker at the Iowa State University Extension Annual Conference on Oct. 10. He’s a Minnesotan, an illusionist and entrepreneur. He uses illusions to show how easy it is to be deceived.

Illusions and realities in the workplace
1. (illusion) A person can create success on his or her own. (reality) You need your coworkers and clients. Horsager says, “To think we can do anything significant on our own is egotistical and untrue.”
2. (illusion) Instant gratification is the goal. (reality) You need vision for what is ahead and the possibilities in that future.
3. You don’t need to learn any more. (reality) Horsager says, “All readers are not leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Successful people are humble and have a desire to keep learning.
4. You’re above the law. (reality) Integrity is critical. It’s doing what is right over what is easy.
5. A single person can’t make a difference. (reality) We all have significant opportunities to make a difference.
6. Technology will make things so much easier. (reality) We don’t work less with new technology.
7. It takes big things to make a big difference. (reality) It’s the little things compounded that make a big difference. You are the sum of your life’s decisions.

Four little things can make a big difference

1. Sincere care (of your team, your client)
Listen empathetically. It’s the best way to care. It is work.
Appreciate people. Show your appreciation. Write notes for specific things someone did. One of the top reasons employees leave jobs is they don’t feel appreciated.
Deliver what you say you will deliver. If you can’t, apologize immediately and correct the situation.
2. Steady courage
Take intelligent risks. If you fail, learn from the failure.
3. Sight clarity
Without vision, teams and organizations fail. When that optimistic possibility is shared, workers understand how it ties to their jobs. Vision motivates people. “The simplest way to have some vision is to first determine the best outcome. In other words, identify the desired end. Second, define a plan to get there. Third, create accountability. Finally, work the plan.”
4. Sound character
Integrity. Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s, said, “The quality of leaders is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.”

Trust is built with two key components: integrity and respecting people

Horsager says when there’s trust in a workgroup, in an organization, you get productivity. Trust brings sustained success. Without trust, the organization loses sales, reputation, morale and valuable employees.

From ‘Speaking of Success: World Class Experts Share Their Secrets’, 2006 Insight Publishing and the Oct. 2007 presentation

Integrity is more than honesty

January 03, 2008

8 gifts of civility you can give this year

“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them - every day beginning the task anew.”
Saint Francis de Sales, French saint and bishop of Geneva (1567-1622)

You’ll not only give but receive using these gifts in the workplace and in your personal life.

1. The gift of listening
One of the greatest things you can do for another is actively listen. This means you really listen, no interrupting, no daydreaming, no planning your response, no multi-tasking, no jumping to conclusions. Think of the old adage you have one mouth and two ears; use them in that proportion. Listen.

2. The gift of acknowledgment
How many times do we ask for something or are just given something and do not acknowledge receipt? Acknowledge.

3. The gift of gratitude
Do you compliment others on work well done? Value their contributions? Write notes or express your thanks in person. Building up people builds organizational strength. Express your gratitude.

4. The gift of connection
People need to belong to thrive. Connectedness is a core requisite to learn, develop and interact. Look for opportunities to engage others in meaningful activities, have a voice, take responsibility for their actions and actively participate in civic discourse. Stay in touch with your network of personal friends and professional acquaintenances.

5. The gift of time
Volunteer to help others complete projects or respect their need for uninterrupted time. This gift is more valuable when you anticipate a request. Give time.

6. The gift of discipline
Confront reality. Instead of blaming others or denying that a problem exists, deal with facts. No complaining, no feeling sorry for yourself, no nasty comments, no screaming, no pessimistic predictions, no drama. Ask questions to learn and understand rather than questioning every action. Discipline yourself.

7. The gift of knowledge
Help others learn a new software program, suggest different ways to look at a problem, loan a book that you think will be helpful, mentor someone. People like challenges. You’ll probably learn too as you share knowledge.

8. The gift of excitement
Who can resist the person who is excited about searching for solutions rather than pointing out problems, who anticipates the future rather than focusing on the past and who is enthusiastic about what is going right rather than outlining what went wrong? Share the positive energy of excitement.

Laugh. Inspire. Enjoy.

What other gifts would you add?

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 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,
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

November 28, 2007

We need to be a people of integrity

Guest post continued by the Rev. Dr. Charles Kniker

How counter this description of integrity is to both ancient and modern ‘common wisdom’. Yes, there are some famous lines from world literature that one should always be true to oneself. Remember the famous quote from Hamlet, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou cans’t not then be false to any man.” Ironically, the character mouthing those words was a crafty soul who bent the truth to suit his selfish purposes. Today, we hear that we have to be Number One; that we have to watch out for ourselves, and forget others.

So if we are to be individuals or communities of faith, we must recognize that we are swimming against the current of rationalization. We are to have integrity, we will act upon what we believe is right and wrong. Just like the whistle blowers, who may get into trouble, to what extent are we willing to get involved?

Having integrity also means, you recall, speaking out, explaining why we believe some things are right. Carter ends his book with a section on evil. He says that there is nothing else to call it. There is evil in the world – such as the evil of genocide. He also talks about the evil that comes when minds are closed.

A more recent book I would recommend is Parker Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness (2004). The subtitle speaks of living an undivided life. Isn’t that what integrity is? So many of us live a life of stereotypes – putting on the faces that others expect of us, but deep inside, we have conflicts. I can’t pretend to know the significant ethical decisions you must face each day at work and at home. I don’t know you well enough, individually, to know what inner strengths you have. Church folk like to speak of such virtues as faith, hope, love, trust and generosity. But we don’t often use the word integrity. I believe we need to emphasize it more.

We should live our lives so that they make a difference
The key is that, from the perspective of integrity, we have to ask how concerned we are for each other and our neighbors. Let our self-interest give way to interest in others.

The Rev. Dr. Charles Kniker graduated from Eden Theological Seminary near St. Louis and was ordained in 1962. Following ministry in several churches and completion of his doctorate, he taught at Iowa State University for 24 years. He served as president of Eden Seminary from 1993-1995. In 2002 Charles retired from his position as Associate Director of Academic Affairs for the Board of Regents, State of Iowa.

I am honored to count Charles as a friend. When he heard I wrote about civility, he offered sermons he had delivered on integrity and civility. This integrity post is excerpted from a sermon he delivered in fall 1996 at Faith United Church of Christ in Bryan, Texas, with some revisions he made for this guest post. His thoughts on civility will run the week of Dec. 9.

November 27, 2007

Integrity is more than honesty

Guest post by the Rev. Dr. Charles Kniker

Businesses and governments like to claim they have it. Politicians often say their opponents don’t have it. Individuals, for the most part, aspire to it. Integrity.

Many voices today passionately decry the lack of integrity in all arenas of life. Religious fundamentalists and terrorists are certain their opponents have abandoned integrity and are engaged in corrupt practices. We need to be concerned about that deficiency in our families, our churches, our schools, our nation. Just as our bodies need water, so our souls need integrity. As a society, we are in a desert of deceit, and we need the oasis of honesty and courageous action.

We can easily list specific examples of the lack of integrity. Reports of politicians and their aides making shady deals and being unfaithful to their spouses are rampant. Persons hired to care for our children, at home or at day care centers abuse the little ones. Wall Street fund managers manipulate the investments of their clients. Commercials and telemarketers tempt us with products and prizes they can’t deliver. Athletes take performance enhancing drugs. College students (at least 70 percent) admit they cheat on exams. May I add the 'reality' television shows which applaud devious behavior?

We crave integrity, which also means integration, wholeness
We must love each other, trust each other and have a generosity of spirit. All these qualities come together if we are persons of integrity.

What is integrity? One of the leading voices calling for integrity is a Yale law professor, Stephen L. Carter, African-American and an active Episcopalian. His first best-seller was The Culture of Disbelief. He has written another book (integrity) [1996] which I highly recommend. For him, integrity is more than honesty, which many of us equate with integrity.

Integrity has three components
First, Carter says we must have the ability to discern what is right and wrong. Doesn’t everyone know right from wrong? Don’t assume that today. Gangs and television, rather than parents and schools, are the primary value trainers, some argue. One might add that many children of the world, in nations having extreme hunger or genocide, are so busy just surviving that discerning right and wrong in what we consider traditional circumstances isn’t possible. Granted, that could be debated by some who do research of the brain who argue humans are ‘hard wired’ for good. For now, let’s just assume most of us have learned right and wrong.

Then, for Carter, once you can discern right from wrong, you will act upon it, even when it may have a high cost personally. We should be able to understand that, from stories we read and see on ‘whistleblowers’ in the federal government and business. Despite legislation designed to protect such individuals, what I read suggests whistleblowers still pay a heavy personal and professional price.

Carter says that the third mark of integrity is that one acts openly and is willing to explain to others why he/she acted the way he or she did. A person of integrity will have no embarrassment or shame about what has been done. It is better to act rightly, than just having the right rhetoric and not act. We must move past theory into practice. The faith perspective on integrity is that we will act not in our own self-interest, but in the interest of what is best for others. A secular version of this is the Rotary 'four way test'.

Watch for the conclusion, We need to be a people of integrity, tomorrow.

November 07, 2007

Personal effectiveness requires discipline and learning

To lead yourself ... and then possibly others.

Some two thousand years ago Cicero, the Roman statesman and philosopher, listed the six biggest mistakes of man:
1. The delusion that personal gain is made by crushing others.
2. The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected.
3. Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it.
4. Refusing to set aside trivial preferences.
5. Neglecting the development and refinement of the mind, and not acquiring the habit of reading and studying.
6. Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.

The ancient Greeks and Romans practiced what John Maxwell--American minister, leadership expert, speaker, and author (1947 - ) -- preaches today, "Those who cannot lead themselves cannot lead others."

1. Do you refuse to simply “get by”?

Leaders are not satisfied with "getting by" or "squeaking through”.

2. Do you shun perfectionism?
Great leaders don't waste their time striving for perfection. Effective leaders learn from their failures so they can do better next time.

3. Can you apply humor to your setbacks?
It's an important part of discipline ... because you will have setbacks. It's not a matter of "if" but "when”. Humor will keep your leadership discipline intact.

4. Are you humble enough to admit your need for continual learning?

Effective leaders are humble. They admit they don't know it all. And they don't pretend to know it all. As one leader said, "It's what you learn, after you think you know it all that counts." Effective leaders know it's easier to keep up than catch up. So they're in the continual learning mode. They know school is never out.

Part of self-education comes from constructive risk-taking. Effective leaders carefully consider how they would adjust ... or how they would salvage a situation ... if, in fact, they did fail.

How satisfied are you with your answers to the four questions? If you're committed to continual learning, what is your evidence? How many books do you read or listen to each month? How many seminars or lectures do you attend each year?

How does this relate to civility?
Respect for others, honesty, humility, self-discipline.

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 Or contact him at 20550 Lake Ridge Drive, Prior Lake, MN 55372.

October 15, 2007

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.

Native American proverb


Today is Blog Action Day. The topic is the environment.

Rule 24. Respect the Environment and Be Gentle to Animals
“Only two or three generations ago it was commonplace to describe progress as the subjugation of nature by man. Today we are more likely to think of progress as freeing nature from the lethal embrace of a recklessly wasteful and polluting humanity.”
--‘Choosing Civility: the Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct’ P. M. Forni, cofounder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project

Responsibility extends into and around the workplace
Civility includes an active interest and respect for the well-being of our communities and a concern for the health of the planet.
• Reduce consumption. Paper. How much do you need to print? Do you need multiple phone books?
• Don’t litter. Pick up after those who do or that which the wind blew in. The grounds outside the workplace are a reflection of those inside.
• Recyle. Paper, soda cans, plastic containers, printer cartridges.
• Don’t use products harmful to the environment.

Give up bottled water
Americans have some of the best tap water in the world. Your tap water may actually be better than bottled water. Why is bottled water a status symbol? Drink tap water from a tumbler or bottle that can be used over and over. (It’s good to wash them often according to ISU Extension.) That should be the status symbol because the user is environmentally astute.

The biggest display of bottled water in Iowa may be at the state fair. It was about fair time that I read Message in a Bottle from Fast Company,
“Americans went through about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year, 167 for each person. Durable, lightweight containers manufactured just to be discarded. Water bottles are made of totally recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, so we share responsibility for their impact: Our recycling rate for PET is only 23%, which means we pitch into landfills 38 billion water bottles a year--more than $1 billion worth of plastic.” The article notes it’s an unlikely business boom and says something about our culture of indulgence.

Bottled water is an emerging target
The Des Moines Register had an editorial on it in early September. KCCI had a story in July. Two nonprofit organizations are asking you to pledge to quit drinking bottled water:
New American Dream, where you can find tap water reports from across the country,
Food and Water Watch,

Oct. 15, 2007
One issue: the environment.
The power of many to increase awareness, take action and make changes.

Another very good article: Bad to the Last Drop, New York Times, August 1, 2005,

October 08, 2007

Punctuality is nonnegotiable; it’s a matter of respect

Civility is all about respect---- for you and for others.

If there’s one thing I’ve tried valiantly to improve since I began studying civility and learned some of the things I do are uncivil…it’s being on time for meetings, lunch dates and all the other appointments of work life. Here are some excerpts about punctuality, sarcastic and not.

‘Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook as told to Scott Adams’ 1996
1.9 Being late for meetings
It’s easy to calculate the number of minutes to be late: Multiply the number of people in the meeting by three and then show up whenever you feel like it. (It’s more of an art than a science.)

Diana DeLonzor, author of ‘Never Be Late Again: 7 Cures for the Punctually Challenged’, places the chronically late into seven categories:
The rationalizer has a hard time acknowledging responsibility for lateness and tends to blame outside circumstances.
The producer wants to squeeze as much into every minute as possible; he is always busy.
The deadliner subconsciously enjoys the last-minute sprint to the finish line; she feels more alive when running out of time.
The indulger exercises less self-control; tends to procrastinate.
The rebel resists authority and everyday rules; might run late as a form of control.
The absent-minded professor is easily distracted, forgetful and caught up in his own introspection.
The evader feels anxiety about her environment and tries to control it; her own needs or routine come before being on time.

I’ve not read the book but found this list in a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article. (I see myself in five categories. I should read the book.)

Punctuality goals
• Go to meetings on time, with agenda in hand, notes needed, pen and paper.
• Arrive at the agreed-upon time for lunches, meeting people, etc.

My challenge for you today
Be aware of how many times you are not punctual. And think about how the lack of punctuality impedes others, how your tardiness affects your effectiveness, attitude and work.

Do any of the seven categories ring a bell for you?

September 26, 2007

The most successful and influential people tend to be the best listeners

"The deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated." William James, American psychologist and philosopher (1842–1910)

Are you listening?
Or are you waiting for your turn to talk? Do you take the time to see the speaker’s world through his or her eyes? A primary activity of love is listening. We must temporarily suspend our judgments and be fully present for the other person, be in the moment. Buddhists call this state ‘mindfulness’. What if you listened to others so deeply that they felt loved, accepted and safe in your presence, no matter what they had to say?

Conversational ping-pong
They are on opposite sides, each trying to win. Listening needs to be cooperative not competitive, helpful rather than harmful. Conversations are frustrating when you care only about your agenda, when you feel your ego is threatened or when you are too stubborn to hear what others are saying.

Not listening causes pain in personal and professional relationships—conflicts, misunderstandings, arguments, lost business and hurt feelings.

Listening is a mental and emotional process

You gain understanding, trust and rapport. You learn about another’s true concerns. The first step to effective listening is to become quiet. Sometimes it’s best to walk away from a conversation if you can’t be mindful.

Effective listening requires you search for the message behind the message. When someone is angry, what’s behind the anger? When someone is joyful, what’s behind that emotion?

Ask and listen
When people share a concern or problem, they may not expect you to have a solution. They want someone to listen, to understand and to care. You have to want to listen and that’s not easy.

Listening model
1. Pay attention. Fight off distractions. They are external such as surrounding sounds and the speaker’s clothes. They are internal such as thinking about what you’ll say next, jumping to conclusions. You have to concentrate to not be distracted.
2. Acknowledge you’ve paid attention. Empathize. Understand, not necessarily agree. This creates a climate of trust and rapport. Employ golden silence. You can reflect with pauses such as, “I see,” or “Oh”. Try to acknowledge the emotional message the person is sending. “It sounds like you’re upset about this.” “You’re raising an important point.” “It must hurt to be treated that way.” It’s not so much that you pinpoint how that person feels, but explain what you perceive. The other person can then affirm or correct your perception.
3. Clarify what the person means. Ask open questions such as “Can you tell me more?” “I’d like to understand your frustration. What else is troubling you?” “So, your concern is…”
4. Respond. Suggest options and alternatives. Provide resources. Agree to take action. Encourage with comments such as “What do you plan to do about it?” Respond with few words rather than many.

The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives. Listening is how we show we care. Empathetic listening may seem time-consuming but it will save time in the long run and improve relationships.

Empathy -- noun, Identification with and understanding of another's situation, feelings, and motives
Synonyms: commiseration, compassion, condolence
Etymology: Greek, literally ‘to suffer with'

Inspired by a very small book, ‘Listening for Success: How to Master the Most Important Skill of Network Marketing’ by Steve Shapiro.

September 25, 2007

Do you prefer people who talk or people who listen?

Places I expect to listen, not talk

Places I expect to listen and talk
Team meetings
Staff meetings

What turns meetings into lectures or sermons?
No agenda
Dictator or bullying tactics
The meeting leader does not control the meeting

How do those who attend such meetings react?
Nod off
Look at their watches

What is accomplished in such meetings?
Perhaps this is why meetings are labeled one of the biggest time wasters.

What can you do?
Be insistent in asking for an agenda prior to the meeting.
Be assertive; support the meeting leader to stay on topic.
I’m thinking about perfecting the ‘time out’ signal. I suppose that’s not terribly civil, but neither is the incessant talker.

A psychologist from the Iowa State Student Counseling Service was a guest speaker at a meeting of College of Agriculture and Life Sciences academic advisers. He has a PhD in counseling psychology. His topic was reading students’ verbal and nonverbal signals. There were 16 advisers present, from student peer advisers to full professors. I asked to sit in because I’ve wanted to learn about nonverbal signals.

Within five minutes, I was taking notes on HOW he engaged everyone present and listened to them, as well as taking notes on what he said.

He began with an open-ended question, “How is advising going this fall?” He spread his arms open and leaned forward as he asked the question. There was no doubt he came to listen and respond to what those advisers wanted to talk about. Initially there was a bit of hesitation, but he soon had advisers giving examples and asking questions.

The group learned from each other as well as from the psychologist. It was a truly inspiring meeting with good solutions. Why? (Actually, I should have expected this; he’s a psychologist.) He is a master of the art of asking and listening.

P.S. I will write a post some time on nonverbal signals but this points out how, sometimes, by listening and observation, you get so much more than you expected. Nice. Very nice.

July 19, 2007

Instilling civility in the workforce of the future

In scanning releases from extension news services all across the United States for posting on the national eXtension Web site, I came across this one on parents helping their children learn civility. The release doesn’t use the word ‘civility’ but that definitely is the topic. It’s an angle I’d not thought about because it's outside the workplace. Nonetheless a very good angle because children are the workforce of the future.

It’s from the University of Illinois.
It's a Jungle Out There! Coach Your Child for Social Survival

June 13, 2007

Underwear info page

Part of civility is showing respect for others as well as displaying self-respect. One way is through appearance. As society and workplaces become more diverse and more multicultural, perhaps we need to rethink what is appropriate. Does our clothing reflect favorably upon ourselves, our department, our colleagues and clients? From three-piece suit to baggy surfer shorts, mini-skirt to burqa -- make sure what you wear fits properly and is appropriate for the work you do and the situation you are in on any given day.

Here’s an example from Iowa 4-H about a clothing problem. The following is condensed from e-mails among state 4-H staff.

Underwear—Most of us wear it, but we don’t want proof!
At the end of the three-day 2006 state 4-H clothing event, the judges called me in to visit about underwear!

The judges could tell from watching participant modeling that some were wearing thong underwear, some had lace-edged underwear and some were wearing no underwear. The judges were not concerned about the choice, just the fact that they could tell from the lines showing through the clothing. (Slips may be out of style, but they did serve a function.)

As a result of this conversation and others
There’s a new bullet point in the 4-H clothing event judge’s form under modeling evaluation, fit, stating “No visible undergarment lines”. Seeing visible underwear lines is a fit problem. The judges will have a chance to educate participants on what proper fit looks like and what it doesn’t show. The 4-Hers will be alerted to this new point when they fill out their entry form, plus there’s a note for 4-Hers, “If these lines are a current fashion trend and you wanted them to show, include that explanation here.”

Part of this is a guest post by various people in my office building. Some were sure this would be a good post. Others weren’t at all sure. When I said I didn’t know how I’d connect it to civility, one wrote the introduction. So thank you Laura, Sue, Elaine, Mary Kay and Mitch.

Actually, there’s a connection here to reasons for incivility
Giovinella Gonthier in ‘Rude Awakenings: Overcoming the Civility Crisis in the Workplace’ includes this in her 10 reasons why we behave uncivilly. “When our employers tried such experiments as ‘casual dress,’ they failed to formulate guidelines or think through the effects”, she says. It’s professional image. You are what you wear, how kempt you appear, how you dress for your position and your workplace culture.

A checklist for choosing the day’s mode of dress (from the book)
What are my activities for the day?
With whom will I be interacting?
Where will I be meeting them?
What will my clients be wearing?
What will my superiors be wearing?
What will my coworkers be wearing?

And then of course, there’s always that surprise—you get called into a meeting that wasn’t on your schedule, or someone comes into your place of work that you weren’t expecting. It’s in your best interest to be well groomed and dress appropriately every work day, including having the proper ‘fit’.

April 22, 2007


"That man is never happy for the present is so true, that all his relief from unhappiness is only forgetting himself for a little while. Life is a progress from want to want, not from enjoyment to enjoyment."
Boswell: Life of Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson, poet, biographer, essayist, lexicographer (1709-1784)

Another year of filing income taxes.
I find it’s a good time for a reality check of what I did for others. In the tax process, you’ve probably added up how much money you gave to charity last year, just as I did.

I understand the financial stress of different phases of our lives. The just-out-of-school with college debts. The young family cycle with a mortgage. I’m in the two children in college phase.

Look at your giving as a percent of your income.
Perhaps you also deducted the value of goods you gave to charitable causes.
Think about your volunteer time helping individuals and your community in the past year.
Are you happy with your level of giving of your time, your money and your talents?

How does this relate to civility in the workplace?
So much of the incivility today comes down to focusing on me, me, me. The competition for a bigger title, the drive to earn more money, the outward display of material things, the quest for power.

Giving away time and money falls on the humble and feel-good side of life. Although many organizations now publish huge lists of who donated at what level, our total giving is pretty much our own little secret.

I guess it does focus some on the ‘me’ aspect. It focuses on how happy we are with ourselves, what we did for others. The more content we are with ourselves, the more civil we tend to be…..everywhere, including in the workplace.

February 27, 2007

(Humility) You first, please…

Humility is thinking about others before you think about yourself.

Humility is the self-confidence that you don’t need to be the center of attention. You accept and acknowledge the work, the talents, the abilities and the authority of others.
Humility brings authentic happiness, an inner peace. Humility is admitting…right up front…that you made a mistake, that you are human. It is learning and moving on.

Truth and humility are inseparable.
Pretending to be humble is obvious by actions--the amount of space you leave in your life for others and the amount of space consumed with yourself. False humility is downplaying your talents and accomplishments to receive praise or adulation from others.

Some of the thinking that brought me to this topic
• To work in the communications business, you have to think of the audience, to recognize you are not the target audience.
• To work in teams, you have to recognize the synergy of ideas is better than yours alone.
• To work in an organization, you need to recognize there are many workers at all levels who deal with customers and you will create better communications when you listen to what all coworkers can tell you. You need to thank the person who did the work, rather than take credit for someone else’s work.

Rosa Say from Hawaii has an excellent blog entry on ‘humility in the workplace’. After working 24 years in Hawaii’s hospitality industry, she founded Say Leadership Coaching. Please, please read it.

The Humility Test from Queendom, the Land of Tests, out of Montreal. (You will get lost in all these tests with instant scores and comments.) Their credibility statement says, “Our tests are developed by a team of experienced developers led by Ilona Jerabek, PhD. Each test is well researched and developed according to APA (American Psychological Association) standards for educational and psychological testing.”

A humility test of 41 questions that has some merit in my opinion, posted on an Oklahoma City church Web site,

“The greatest friend of truth is Time, her greatest enemy is Prejudice, and her constant companion is Humility”
--Charles Caleb Colton, English cleric, writer and collector of aphorisms and short essays on conduct (1780-1832)

February 09, 2007

Pay attention

This is rule #1 in P.M. Forni’s book “Choosing Civility, The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct.”

Forni says attention is a tension that connects us to the world around us.

“Only after we notice the world can we begin to care for it. Every act of kindness is, first of all, an act of attention. We may see a coworker in need of a word of encouragement, but it is only if we pay attention that we may do something.”

Think about how you don’t visit the local tourist attractions until you have a guest to entertain. Paying attention is like that. We get caught up in our own work, ignoring the obvious around us.

I find meetings can be one of the most important places to pay attention if I will just do it. A recent example:
I was leading a meeting and at “other” on the agenda. (“Other” is a very civil agenda item to let those attending bring up matters they may have thought of due to discussion in the meeting or they didn’t think to put on the agenda.) A coworker brought up a problem that I didn’t really see as a problem. Others expanded his point. My job was to pay attention and guide the discussion to a solution.

“When we pay attention, when we are alert to the world, we improve substantially the quality of our responses and therefore the quality of our lives and of the lives of those who touch ours,” Forni writes.

When you talk to a colleague, it’s not a colleague but a particular individual. How does his or her work touch yours and what has this colleague told you about his or her life? It is very frustrating to try to communicate with someone whom you realize is not present in the conversation; their mind is somewhere else. There is no value to the communication.

So pay attention at work: observe, listen, be courteous and considerate and then respond.

Pay attention outside the workplace…to your spouse, to your children, to your parents, to old friends, to new friends, to relatives…

A week ago when the tornado hit Florida, my husband and I were watching the news of it. We wondered if the area was close to where a first cousin of his now lived in retirement. This cousin and his wife had done an exhaustive tour last spring to visit every close relative…I was in awe of that effort. We searched and discovered the cousin lived in the path of that tornado.

I encouraged my husband to call. “What can I do when I’m in Iowa and he’s in Florida?” was his answer. I told him… you call to show you care. He called. His cousin was a mile or two beyond the tornado’s path. He and his wife were trying to help others. The next day we got an e-mail “We thank so many of you who have called and/or e-mailed your thoughts, concerns and prayers for us and for the victims of the horrible tornados that we experienced.”

Solutions and connections happen when you pay attention.

“The simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity.”
Tom Peters, American author and expert on business management practices (1942- )

December 28, 2006

Hope for 2007

That we each become more civil…that we contemplate and act with civility.

“The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent, tolerance; to a friend, your heart; to your child, a good example; to a father, deference; to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you; to yourself, respect; to all men, charity.”
Benjamin Franklin, American statesman, scientist, philosopher, writer and inventor (1706-1790)

The components of civility……certainly there are more than these……


Civility requires work and dedication.
Wishing you a 2007 with
civility to share and friends, family and coworkers who care.

December 11, 2006

Strive for empathy

“Yet, taught by time, my heart has learned to glow for other's good, and melt at other's woe.”
Homer, Greek poet (approx 800-750 B.C.)

I read an article in today’s paper about how to react to serious illness and death of coworkers or coworker's relatives.

The advice was ‘say what you would like to hear if the situation were reversed’. What would you find acceptable for your coworkers to say or do if one of your loved ones was seriously ill? Be empathetic. You can think of empathy as being like an actor preparing for a role.

Yesterday I learned a friend’s husband was about to lose his job of 25 years if he didn’t move to the new headquarters 175 miles away. I tried to imagine how I would feel.

It’s not civil to ignore these situations and say nothing. It’s not civil to drag out your own horror stories. It’s not a time to pry into other’s lives.

Civility is reacting with action and words.
Are there some jobs at work you can help with or take over?
“I understand this is very difficult for you.”
“How are you doing today?”

Empathy is needed in many work situations.
Take the flip side. Someone in your office receives a citation or does outstanding work on a project. If you were that person, you’d appreciate your coworkers acknowledging your success but that doesn’t always happen. Why not? Is it envy? Is it obliviousness because you’re so focused on your own work and personal life?

As the quote from Homer notes (top of right column), empathy comes easier the older one gets because you’ve experienced more. It doesn’t necessarily make it easy to know what to say or do. It takes compassion and thinking about how you’d want people to react if you were in the situation.

Strive for empathy. Teach your children empathy.
Empathy, noun: Identification with and understanding of another's situation, feelings, and motives
Synonyms: commiseration, compassion, condolence
Etymology: Greek, literally ‘to suffer with'

The Gannett News Service story ‘Coping with illness, death in the office’

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