February 04, 2009

Civility is boring

…from the press’ perspective. That’s what Barack Obama says in his book, The Audacity of Hope:Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (2006), talking about politics today.

Rather than write several blog posts inspired by the book, I’m giving you eight excerpts I highlighted. I encourage you to think about how they apply not just to this country but to your workplace.

We are distracted by the petty and trivial.

We chronically avoid the tough decisions because of our inability to work collaboratively.

Behaviors that express our mutual regard for one another: honesty, fairness, humility, kindness, courtesy and compassion.

Twin strands in tension in every society and in every individual:
the individualistic and the communal
autonomy and solidarity

…the quality of authenticity, of being who you say you are, of possessing a truthfulness that goes beyond words.

In sum, the Constitution envisions a road map by which we marry passion to reason, the ideal of individual freedom to the demands of community.

Frustration boils over and leads people to turn on each other.

Just as too many corporate managers, shielded from competition, had stopped delivering value, too many government bureaucracies had stopped asking whether their shareholders (the American taxpayer) and their consumers (the users of government services) were getting their money’s worth.

I recommend the book. It’s an interesting insight of the thinking of the man who is now president. Where he got the title for the book is interesting but I’ll leave that for you to find.

January 07, 2009

The best on the blog

What did you like best? Here’s the list of top entries as viewed by you…
Failing the civility test in social media
Continuation: self-centered marketing … inside the creative camp
Management by Wandering Around (MBWA)
Choose Civility in Howard County
Civility defined by an anger management specialist
How much can you express in three words?
Transparency: Let it be real, not the next buzzword
How social media = civility
Manners and knowledge of etiquette on display at conferences
Redesigning the organization for today’s economy

What about all-time popular content?
Here’s the list as viewed by you without duplicates from 2008
How to stop bullying in the workplace
Email anatomy
Do you want your boss to be your friend?
7 Habits of Highly Reflective People
The seven key needs of employees
We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children
Email emotions -- duplicity and anger including sarcasm, loaded phrases and rhetorical questions
Roles and responsibilities
Do you mask who you are at work?
Subject: your professionalism shows in email

December 11, 2008

What would you write in your holiday letter from the workplace?

If you followed the formula of first you write about the family and then you write a bit about the individual members, what would your letter say?

In 2008 my workplace
Discovered some new processes, added some products
Went on vacation (retreats, conferences)
Added new family members, lost some family members

Whom could you brag about? This coworker got an award, this coworker finished a large project.

And you particularly enjoyed……..what?

It just might be an exercise in civility.
Very few holiday letters share the day to day drudgery of the past year. So as we wind down this calendar year, perhaps it’s time to write that mental letter of what was good about the workplace this year, commend those who have done good work and list what we are proud to say we’ve accomplished.

It also could be a time to start thinking about the upcoming year in which we’re all probably concerned about our livelihoods. What do we want to accomplish that we can write about in the 2009 letter? How will we contribute to our company or organization?

Lots of questions. What are your answers?

November 05, 2008

This is a rare opportunity to observe leadership

Leadership and management are not synonymous terms. Leader and president of the United States are not synonymous terms although they are used that way. I’ve observed and believed since before the Iowa caucuses that Barack Obama is, above all, a leader.

Leaders capture the heart and soul of others.
Leaders are terrific communicators sharing and explaining goals and direction to inspire others. Leaders understand the history of how we got to where we are today. They observe and listen. They have ideas and listen to the ideas of others without feeling threatened. Leaders empower others who then have a spirit of independence and can work to their full capacity.

People follow leaders voluntarily. Leadership happens at every level of the organization. Leadership is a condition in which energy and resources of people are intentionally focused on common goals in a concerted and productive manner.

Measures of a leader’s greatness focus on the difficulty of the objectives attained, creating and sustaining a productive environment, and the outcomes.

In a community or organization with leaders, things get done.
Visions are conveyed and believed. Goals are met. There’s inspiration and hope, commitment.

Leadership starts with self-confidence, courage, perspective and civility. Humility and integrity are the cornerstones of leadership.

A healthy society has centers of authority and leadership that do not necessarily derive from political or economic power but from cultural and spiritual values.

Mahatma Gandhi, Indian spiritual and political leader (1869-1948), worked for the rights of the depressed and disinherited classes. He had no personal greed for power but cared rather for the welfare of the people, using persuasion instead of violence, never allowing expediency to justify a deviation from the truth.

Nearly anyone can become a leader.
Studies of leaders and leadership identify a daunting array of characteristics and skills. Research makes it clear that no particular personality type or style is a guarantee of leadership success.

President-elect Obama’s acceptance speech had so many hallmarks of leadership and civility. These stood out to me, “I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.”…“And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn - I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.” I believe the Obama family wore red and black---to begin that very night to embrace all those who live in the United States.

This is a historic time in which we can all learn a great deal about leadership. My greatest hope is that the qualities of leadership filter into our companies and our organizations because we see it on a national level.

Good reading
5 CEOs’ best leadership tips

by John McKee, March 27, 2008

Have We Learned Anything About Leadership Development?
The Conference Board Review® Article, May/June 2008

Transcript: Obama's acceptance speech

September 04, 2008

You know you need civility at work when…

Sept. 6, 2008 marks the second anniversary of this blog. I want you to help write the celebratory post. Finish that headline with one or more submissions….please. Here are three to help get you in the mood.

You know you need civility at work when…

…two people who haven’t seen each other in years meet outside your short cubicle wall and relive years there.

…you discover the lead person on the project you love…is a micromanager.

…you find your wastebasket pulled out into the middle of your cube space. ESP message: the contents weigh more than 8 ounces and you’ll need to empty it yourself.

Post your comments now.

July 17, 2008

Civility changes with the culture—take Uganda

Guest post by Stephanie Nelson, Iowa State landscape architecture student

Photo: Stephanie at the end of training celebration in Bulayi

Maybe Americans are direct about our opinions, but Ugandans are direct about appearance. Because I have been entrenched in U.S. political correctness for so long, this directness has been hard to get used to.

The word that directly affects me is, of course, "muzungu," meaning white/Western person. I have to remind myself that Ugandans use Muzungu as a sort of title, not meaning to be derogatory or discriminatory but simply calling you what you are. When children see me they just shout "Muzungu bye!" over and over. It drives me nuts, and the worst part is they don't stop shouting until I react with a wave.

Ugandans use descriptions as names for many people.
One example is Ssenga, Luganda for aunt. Ssenga Teo came to stay with us for the weekend and she was called simply "Ssenga" the whole time by everyone in the family. Another description used as a title is old person. Some jobs essentially become someone's name, as with doctor and teacher. Otherwise if someone is describing someone else they will say "the fat one" or "the very black one," all descriptions we shy away from in the United States as being improper to point out.

I have a new set of eyes here.
I am improving the ability to see beyond "that person is black" to distinguishing people's different facial features. The different shades of black are now becoming visible. Ugandan's describe each other as "the brown one" or "the black one."

This phenomenon goes both ways of course. When we were introduced … as Krystal has brown hair, Stephanie's is blonde, etc, the Ugandans couldn't tell us apart. We looked the same until they spent time with us and we became individuals.

I encountered a more surprising iteration of this inability to see things one is not used to seeing. I showed my host brother my driver's license. The "eye color" category caught his attention; mine says green. I thought he disagreed that my eyes were green so I asked him what color he thought they were. His first answer was "white." It took me a second to realize what he meant – and he is absolutely right: eyes are primarily white! Next he answered "black," as in the pupil. So I said "ok what about between the white and the black?" Only then did he notice the color of the iris.

He said he had never heard of eye color being used as a description. When our friend Sharifa came in a few minutes later, I asked her what color my eyes are and she also said "white." In Uganda, eye color is a meaningless description because Ugandans' eye colors are shades of brown.
(End of Stephanie’s post.)

Global economy
As we work in relationships with other cultures, civility is very important. It’s not simply manners, but an understanding and respect for other cultures. It takes some humility to confess you don’t know about other cultures but if you learn and respect their ways, you’ll be in a much better position to develop trust and good working relationships.

Really…in a different dimension…couldn’t you say that about any new company or organization you work with?

May 28, 2008

Will civility become a movement?

The word ‘civility’ gets mentioned frequently during national political campaigns. But those will end in less than six months.

Professor P.M. Forni from Johns Hopkins University, author of ‘Choosing Civility’, has another book due out in June. James, a librarian in Frederick, Maryland, posted a blog entry about Forni’s talk at a library conference. See James' Thangs

Howard County in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. region has been emphasizing civility and could be the starting point of a movement. (Choose Civility in Howard County)

James mentions social intelligence. I listened to part of Daniel Goleman’s book ‘Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships’ on a road trip several weeks ago and decided I needed to own the book. Right now what sticks in my mind is the ‘Dark Triad’ (the narcissist, the Machiavellian and the psychopath) but there’s good news. “We humans have a built-in bias toward empathy, cooperation and altruism—provided we develop the social intelligence to nurture these capacities in ourselves and others.” Goleman is known for his bestseller ‘Emotional Intelligence’.

Back to why I asked the movement question. I’m reading “The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People are Changing the World’. This book cites movements that have become mainstream. From that book jacket “The Cultural Creatives care deeply about ecology and saving the planet, about relationships, peace and social justice, about self-actualization, spirituality and self expression.”

My hope that civility will become a movement was reinforced this weekend when I read ‘Behavioral Covenants in Congregations: A Handbook for Honoring Differences’. Author Gilbert Rendle cites work by historians William Strauss and Neil Howe that gives our national history in the cycle of generations. We should be in crisis phase now. This book is about relationships and civility in church and synagogue life.

I think many of us long to leave the isolation and arrogance of individualism and move on to civility, deep respect for others as we work together. Civility should be a movement that goes mainstream.

May 15, 2008

Civility defined by an anger management specialist

Civility, an Emerging Area of Specialization in Emotional Intelligence
This from the May 8 post on the blog Anger Management ala George Anderson

What is civility?

Civility is behavior in public that demonstrates respect for others and that entails curtailing one’s own immediate self-interest, when appropriate.

Civility is made up of three elements
• Civility is the common language for communicating respect for others and their views (the importance is in the gestures of respect more than the outcome of the behavior);
• Civility toward strangers requires that we behave in certain ways toward people who may mean nothing to us, and whom we are unlikely ever to encounter again, in the interest of hearing their thoughts; and,
• Civility involves holding back in the pursuit of one’s own immediate self-interest – we desist from doing what would be most pleasing to us for the sake of harmonious civil discourse with others, even strangers.

The author adds this: Daniel Goleman, the preeminent expert on Emotional Intelligence, offers the following tips on civility:
• “Conduct yourself with integrity, courtesy, and respect toward fellow members of our community”;
• “Hold individuals accountable for their actions”; and
• “Promote an environment where individuals feel safe and supported.”

December 13, 2007

What is a model for civility?

Guest post continued by the Rev. Dr. Charles Kniker

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

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

The keys to civility today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 12, 2007

Be proactive in nurturing civility

Guest post by the Rev. Dr. Charles Kniker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 05, 2007

What My Civility Workshop Attendees Asked

ISU Extension Office Assistants’ Development Conference Oct. 4

1. In the workplace hierarchy, how can you voice your observations and opinions?
We talked about operating from a position of being respected because you’ve laid that groundwork: thinking before speaking, not offering opinions on all topics and approaching topics from a neutral point. Perhaps disagreeing with a superior will be received better in a private conversation. Couch observations and opinions with language such as “My perceptions are….” “I don’t understand…”

2. How do you work with someone who is very detached in the workplace?
And the conversation swung to the opposite…How do you deal with someone who shares too much private information?
We talked about boundaries between work and private lives and what blurs them today—technology, people isolated from extended families and may not have many friends outside the workplace.
For the isolated person—continue to greet them but respect not all people are ‘morning’ people and perhaps conversing with that person later in the day would be better received. Attempt to get to know the person’s interests, feelings. And recognize that none of these attempts may work.
Too much information—Respond with comments such as “I’m not comfortable hearing about…”

3. What if the workplace lacks camaraderie?
One person said team building exercises helped her office get to know one another better, added some fun, helped people identify different work styles and communication styles. The entire office participated.
One commented there is value in changing routines so you don’t always do the same thing with the same people at break time or lunch hours.

4. How do you deal with a client who is powerful in the community, demanding, a bullying personality who takes up a great deal of time with requests that can’t be met?
Referred to a professional.

We talked about ethics at work from not drinking someone else’s soda in the lunchroom refrigerator to conflicts of interest. We talked about how to be effectively assertive. As always, workshop participants had good suggestions for one another’s questions.

These workers have my utmost respect
They answer the phones and talk to the clients who come into the office. They field inquiries on many topics. They hear the problems, the requests and know the current hot topics. From my communications and marketing point of view, I always want to know what they’re getting inquiries and comments about and their sense of those conversations because they are the link to Iowans.

September 27, 2007

Preview of two upcoming civility workshops for ISU Extension

The workshops are about communication and relationships. There is no PowerPoint presentation.

Iowa State University Office Assistants’ Development Conference, Oct. 4
• We begin with the Queen of Soul, Aretha.
• A 10 question, multiple choice answer quiz that you never need show anyone. What you might think about for answers are on the back side.
• Ground rules for the session.
• What does respecting others mean?
• What do you want to ask about, to talk about? I may have information and suggestions. Others in the session may have suggestions. I may need to search out information to post on this blog or for a follow-up conversation.

Iowa State University Extension Annual Conference, Oct. 10
Not a repeat of last year’s annual conference workshop, although I think Aretha will be there again.

Iowa State has six principles of community approved in January 2007. We’ll focus on one: “Honest and respectful expression of ideas. We affirm the right to and the importance of a free exchange of ideas within the bounds of courtesy, sensitivity and respect, and we work together to promote awareness of various ideas through education and constructive strategies to respectfully consider and engage in honest disagreements.”
• Ground rules for the session.
• Civil discourse on one question relevant to ISU Extension.
• What do those in the session want to talk about on the topic of civility in the workplace?

I’ll ask those attending to fill out a survey at the end of each workshop.

The handout for the first workshop has a new feature: glossary of terms associated with civility and incivility. I selected ones brought up at last year’s workshop, terms I’ve written about this year and things I think about. Some are undoubtedly a preview of blog topics. Download file

If you work for ISU Extension, see you at the conferences. I hope you consider coming to talk about civility.

September 06, 2007

The 9 best civility points I’ve learned this year

Today is the first anniversary for this blog. I’ve learned a great deal listening, reading your comments, hearing your problems and suggestions and researching topics. Sometimes I follow paths you’ve suggested or little trails off your ideas to find credible and reliable information.

These are the points I think about in reviewing the past year.
1. Much of civility comes down to the golden rule endorsed by all the great world religions. Treat others only in ways that you're willing to be treated in the same exact situation. It’s empathy. You need to imagine you are the other person.
2. Assertive communication is a core communication skill. It means that you stand up for yourself, express yourself effectively and prevent others from taking advantage of you. It can help control stress and anger. Assertiveness is not aggressiveness -- disregarding the needs, feelings and opinions of others. Strive for a culture in which one is expected to not back down in the face of the bad behavior of others and in which there is an expectation of resolving conflicts or at least getting the issues out for everyone to see, discuss and work towards resolution.
3. Workplace bullies need to reform or be eradicated in the United States. We are far behind other countries in addressing the problem. Workplace bullying is repeated, health impairing mistreatment comprised of verbal abuse and/or threatening, intimidating conduct and/or work interference.
4. Sexual harassment lives on and it should not. Sexual harassment is the inappropriate sexualization of an otherwise non-sexual relationship. The severity of the harassment is determined to a large extent by the impact on the victim. Sexual harassment in the workplace is unwelcome or unwanted attention of a sexual nature that causes discomfort, humiliation, offense or distress, and/or interferes with the job.
5. Civility requires active listening. Esprit de corps, the common spirit inspiring enthusiasm, devotion and strong regard for the honor of the group, needs everyone’s voice to build a culture, a community. One of the most civil utterances is the simple, humble, and smart question ‘What do you think?’ Listen actively to the answers.
6. Civility is respecting others. The components of civility include humility, compassion, empathy, responsibility, discretion, trust, assertion, kindness, interest, honesty, ethics, integrity and more.
7. Civility improves communications and relationships. A more civil workplace produces a better quality of life. When your quality of life is raised, your job performance improves as well as your engagement at work. It creates energy and inspires creativity and productivity.
8. Leaders do not have subordinates when they are leading. Leaders give up authoritarian control, because to lead is to have followers, and following is always a voluntary activity. Those in management have authority vested in them by the company, and subordinates largely do as they are told. Managers can be leaders but it is obviously not automatic.
9. Civil discourse should be embraced. Recognize a person’s right to advocate ideas different from yours. Civility requires that you make an honest and continuing effort to understand the views and reasoning of others and are willing to be persuaded others’ ideas or the group’s ideas are better than yours.

Civility resource information and topics are endless. You who are interested in civility have offered news items, quotations, books, suggestions for topics and inspiration. Thank you. Don’t stop now. Blessings on you who think less about yourselves and who strive to make workplaces more civil.

August 28, 2007

Labor Day: celebrate work, celebrate life

The U.S. Department of Labor Web site says it is appropriate that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.

Labor Day has its roots in employees rebelling against the injustice of long work hours, a never ending spiral of owing the company store, labor walk-outs and strikes. Labor worked to change America’s workplaces so there was leisure time. Have workers reverted to some of these conditions in the knowledge economy?

Focus and work hard at work..and then leave it to enjoy the rest of life
Self-worth defined only by a job and career is a hollow self-worth. We need to examine the focus and balance of our lives from time to time to increase our sense of well-being. Life is fluid. The focus changes over time., a training and consulting company, lists four quadrants: work, family, friends and self.

Stephen Covey in ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ writes about self-esteem and direction bringing your perspective on life into focus, which then releases the capacity to act. He examines typical centers of our lives: spouse, family, money, work, possessions, pleasure, friend or enemy, church and self. in Great Britain has an online exercise that lets you select seven areas of your life beyond work (the eighth area). The site suggests possibilities: mental health, physical health, leisure time, relaxation, family, husband/wife/partner, spirituality, self-development, career development, home/lifestyle, travel, study, voluntary work, community and friends/socializing. You rate the areas by your current or wished-for focus. An interesting exercise. (

Celebrate Labor Day
Take the time to appreciate what you have and think about
work, avocations and relationships,
the focus and balance in your life,
what you believe is living life well (the good life) and
what actions you can take to be happier with yourself.

The happier you are with yourself, the higher your capacity for showing kindness and respect to others, the hallmarks of civility.

This article covers how work invades your personal life, overtime obsession and ideas for striking the best work-life balance. It is very good. Tools for healthier lives, Work-life balance: Ways to restore harmony and reduce stress

PBS Online NewsHour, The Origins of Labor Day

Take Time
Old English Prayer, Author Unknown

Take time to work, it is the price of success.
Take time to think, it is the source of power.
Take time to play, it is the secret of perpetual youth.
Take time to read, it is the foundation of wisdom.
Take time to be friendly, it is the road to happiness.
Take time to dream, it shows you what is possible.
Take time to give, it brings joy to your heart.
Take time to love and be loved, it is the privilege of the gods.
Take time to look around, it is too short a day to be selfish.
Take time to laugh, it is the music of the soul.

July 17, 2007

One way to prepare for the incivility that you know will come

We’re heating up in Iowa, not only weather wise, but in national politics. The incivility is sure to erupt. The more we’re exposed to incivility, the more tempted we are to take on some incivility in our relationships.

A preventative measure
Suggest this blog to your coworkers, bosses, clients, friends and relatives. I’m not trying to shamelessly promote. I simply believe we are all happier with civility. The more we cooperatively can get people to think about their actions, their words—the better workplaces we’ll have. And that goes for grocery stores too. I didn’t need to hear one side of a cell phone conversation last night on the new boyfriend vs. the old boy friend while I waited for a new butcher who was learning prices and how many slices of 9-month cheddar make a pound.

There’s always the chance that whomever you suggest this blog to will think you did so to highlight the current topic. And because I write and edit for a living, I drafted (and edited) an email you could adapt, personalize, use as is or rewrite completely.

Send this on
I read a blog on civility in the workplace that covers topics on communication methods, ethics, reasons for incivility, etiquette and dealing with difficult people. There’s some fun entries too such as If a dog was your teacher, and the Underwear info page, I’ve found some tips for workplace communications and problems and thought you might enjoy reading it. You can sign up for the mailing list or get it by RSS feed if you click on ‘main’ at the top and then scroll down the right hand column.

Preview of topics to come
Here are some requested topics, some series continuations and some thoughts:
A request for more on bullying in the workplace to supplement Sticks and Stones,
A suggestion to write about politics in the workplace, the national election kind.
Which makes me think of office politics.
Several posts left to go on the email communication series.
Something on difficult people comes out every other month on the 18th—that’s tomorrow.
More reasons for incivility, in the reading and contemplation stage.
Communication styles. Values. Time management and being civil. Cultures, both office and the culture of your upbringing. Integrity. Humility. Lots more in my idea file.
Some topics pop with current events.

If you have a topic request or a resource
please let me know. You could even vote on the ones above; tell me what to push to the forefront. And do speak up for civility.

July 02, 2007

Freedom in the workplace

This is the week our nation celebrates freedom.
How are freedom and democracy faring in the workplace?

Freedom brings choices
Energized productive workplaces are those where the culture exemplifies freedom by
Empowering workers to design the projects and find the solutions
Expecting continuous learning to increase knowledge and skills
Encouraging civil discourse
Insisting on effective and open communications
Demanding ethics which allow trust to reign

Freedom brings responsibility
To be involved, to participate
To release the old thinking and look for new ways
To take risks, knowing you could fail but learn from experience
To be open to changing your mind with more information or when circumstances change
To be civil and develop esprit de corps
To become an effective leader where you see the need

Engines of Democracy
That’s the title of a September 1999 article about “the General Electric plant in Durham, North Carolina that builds some of the world's most powerful jet engines. But the plant's real power lies in the lessons that it teaches about the future of work and about workplace democracy.” I don’t know if the culture has changed, but here’s a current job posting on the Internet which suggests it continues to be a democratic workplace.
Assembly & Test Technician, GE, Aviation, Durham, NC
* Assemble jet engines.
* Coach, guide and train other team members and function in a team-based environment.
* Work from complex product drawings.
* Set-up operates, adjust and troubleshoot all tools and equipment.
* Perform inspections required for the quality plan.

* A high school diploma or GED.
* FAA issued Powerplant license is required.
* Excellent oral and written communication skills.
* Ability to work in a team environment.
* Ability to learn new tasks and become multi-skilled.
* Willingness to work flexible hours/shifts.
* Ability to teach and coach others.
* Ability to make and accept responsibility for decisions.
* Willingness to work in multiple roles with varied responsibilities.

Successful candidate should be able to:
* Work well with and appreciate differences in others and their ideas.
* Function in multiple roles and in different types of situations.
* Behave in an honest, fair, trustworthy and compliant manner in all activities and relationships.
* Accept responsibility for and learn from consequences of own actions and decisions.
* Work diligently and be persistent in performing all tasks while encouraging and motivating others to reach given objectives.

From the 1999 article which is quite long but very interesting, “At a place where the morale is high and the performance is extraordinary, something is going on that is often overlooked in an economy obsessed with fringe benefits, gratuitous flattery, and today’s closing stock price. At GE/Durham, the work itself is the thing. The techs at GE/Durham have challenging jobs that matter, they have a degree of control over their work that is almost unprecedented, they adhere to demanding performance standards, they receive the training and support that they need to do the best work they can—and, as a result, they do just that.”

May 07, 2007

Sexual harassment tops civility blog stats

After a civility workshop last fall, a woman asked me to write about sexual harassment in the workplace.

Now seven months later, I’ve completed my annual performance review. I am always interested in reactions and perceptions, any measurements that help me understand audience interest. So what metrics, data did I have for this blog? (Metrics are quantitative measures of performance or production.) As of this writing, number of posts—38, number of comments—46. I asked the extension computer Web log expert if he would generate a statistics report for March. He is the kind of coworker we all want; he pulled reports for all 2007.

Civility blog visits for Jan.-April 2007

Top seven posts
Sept. 19 Guest Post about Sexual Harassment—232
Oct. 12 When did you last receive a hand-written note?—95
Jan. 18 Difficult people……again----88
Feb. 13 Values to love---86
Jan. 30 I want an agenda—78
Feb. 20 Roles and responsibilities—75
Feb. 3 Sticks and stones—74

Many factors would affect these totals---how long up, enticing headline or not, category, internal links to the post, how intriguing a message did I send with the notification of the post, day of week posted, time of day….

I can’t ignore the number of visits to the sexual harassment post. A coworker suggested it might be high because people searched on the word ‘sex’. I checked. The words sex and sexual do not appear in the search phrases or words for this blog. From the stats, I suspect someone cited the post in January.

So the two posts from 2006 that seem to endure are on sexual harassment and on hand-written notes. I’m paying attention. I will write about sexual harassment. I’ll do something on the niceties, the etiquette-type things one can do in the workplace. I welcome ideas on what you want me to write so do use the comment section to let me know.

I work as a reporter on these posts, searching for authoritative information from books, the Web and from people who have expertise in the areas. My performance goal for this blog for the coming year is to continue to be a credible and competent source of information, to capture your interest, and to stimulate discussions and changes to improve operations and relationships.

I write this blog to try to help us all have better, more civil days. It is the small daily happenings that make life spectacular.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”-- Martin Luther King, Jr., American civil rights leader and Baptist minister (1929 – 1968)

April 27, 2007

About this blog

Name: Lynette Spicer

My passion for civility began in 2003 when I heard Giovinella Gonthier, author of ‘Rude Awakenings: Overcoming the Civility Crisis in the Workplace’, and learned some of my workplace habits could be termed uncivil. It was at the Association for Communication Excellence (ACE) in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Life and Human Sciences conference in Kansas City.

I presented a workshop session on ‘Civility in the Workplace’ for the Iowa State University Extension Annual Conference 2006. This blog continues the discussions.

Continuing goals
o Raise awareness about civility.
o Help people recognize that some of the things they do or don’t do can be handled more civilly.
o Show civility impacts morale, retention rates, productivity and profit in the workplace.
o Promote civility as a component of effective communications.
o Respond to readers.

Authentic and passionate
This is a personal weblog of my opinions, not the opinions, experiences or directions of my employer. I research and write for this blog outside work hours. I look for books, information and lectures that relate to civility.

I am not an expert on civility but a student of it. I believe civility is a tool that can enhance the quality of our lives. Civility is intertwined with communications. I draw upon my journalism background to listen, observe and research. I pledge to write authentic and passionate entries.

I have been a communications specialist for Iowa State University Extension since 1990. I have a Bachelor of Science in Home Economics Journalism (1972) from Iowa State plus 22 post-baccalaureate credits in computer science, statistics, accounting and horticulture.

Help promote civility
My personal goal is to continue to be a credible and competent source of information, to capture your interest, to stimulate discussions and changes to improve relationships.

This blog is incomplete without your thoughts, suggestions, questions and comments.

Association for Communications Excellence (ACE)
2007 gold award writing for the Web for blog post on Sept. 25, 2007 Do you prefer people who talk or people who listen?
2006 bronze award for best innovative use of communication technology to Civility in the Workplace blog

Civility seems to be a growing hot-topic in the United States. Civility is a component of effective communications. It is risky to be candid about problems -- but that’s why a blog is a good vehicle for this content. Content and reactions are presented with some degree of openness.

More about why we should all care about civility, the inaugural post,

February 28, 2007

Anonymous comments accepted

Several weeks ago a comment from ‘anonymous’ came in on the Values to Love post.

Today I tested submitting a comment anonymously. It’s very easy. It works. In the ‘name’ field, just type in anonymous. In the ‘comments’ box, type in whatever you have to say.

I really want to hear your comments so if you don’t feel comfortable putting your name on a comment, please use this method.

January 31, 2007

A resource in Minnesota

My sister is a kindergarten teacher in northwest Iowa. She sent me an article a fellow teacher was sharing in that school system....about dealing with difficult people.

I checked out the author and found lots of information on the Web site, Training for Peak Performance, motivational keynotes and seminars by Alan Zimmerman of Prior Lake, Minnesota. He has articles in 18 categories, from team building to conflict resolution to self esteem and more. One of the categories is "Dealing with Difficult People".

There's a free weekly online newsletter on attitude, motivation, teamwork, communications, and work relationships. I just signed up so may have more to report from this site in the future. Check it out when you have time.

December 17, 2006

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff….and it’s all small stuff

“Take time to reflect on the miracle of life.”
Richard Carlson, American psychologist and author (1961-2006)

The 1997 bestseller with that name is by Richard Carlson, California psychologist. He died Wednesday from a heart attack. He was midway through a media tour to promote his newest book, "Don't Get Scrooged,'' which tackles how to deal with holiday stress.

Carlson was 45 years old.

He wrote 30 books. "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff'' was on bestseller lists for two years.

He understood and advocated for civility.
His signature book has ‘chapters’ that are generally two pages long. The titles alone are inspirational. They include
Remind Yourself that When You Die, Your “In Basket” Won’t Be Empty
Don’t Interrupt Others or Finish Their Sentences
Let Others Have the Glory
Become a Better Listener
Choose Your Battles Wisely
Choose Being Kind over Being Right
When in Doubt about Whose Turn It Is to Take Out the Trash, Go Ahead and Take It Out
Remember that You Become What You Practice Most
Just for Fun, Agree with Criticism Directed Toward You (Then Watch It Go Away)
Understand the Statement, “Wherever You Go, There You Are”
Stop Blaming Others
Live This Day as if It Were Your Last. It Might Be!

If you own a copy, retrieve it from the bookshelf. If you don’t, check it out from the library. It’s a great book to read individual chapters before falling asleep or for meditation. It would be a great gift for others.

On his Web site,

December 04, 2006

The season for civility

“The great secret, Eliza, is not having bad manners or good manners or any other particular sort of manners, but having the same manner for all human souls: in short, behaving as if you were in heaven, where there are no third-class carriages, and one soul is as good as another.”
George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright (1856-1950)

On Thanksgiving eve, civility was the topic in the CBS Evening News free speech segment and also an Associated Press story.

Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of former vice-presidential candidate John Edwards, talked about extending the gift of decency to the people who serve us every day. An important point was remember their names.

An Associated Press story related the efforts of an Iowa professor who gives tips on dealing with distracted students, read that as students behaving uncivilly in the classroom.

Several weeks ago I served as the congregational liaison for a wedding. My duty was to direct guests to the sanctuary, help them find restrooms, etc. The entry of the bridesmaids was one of the most touching, respectful and chivalrous I’d ever seen. As I watched standing at the back of the sanctuary, I was deeply moved. Each bridesmaid entered the sanctuary and waited at the back of the center aisle for her groomsman to walk from the chancel area down the center aisle and escort her to the front. …..And then during the ceremony, several cell phones rang. Does one have to announce before the ceremony begins “Please turn off your cell phones.”? Print it in the wedding program?

Taped to the counter at Java Joes on Fourth Street in downtown Des Moines:
“Please conclude your cell phone conversation before ordering. (It’s a respect thing.)”
And if you’re there during this holiday season and like egg nog, try the egg nog latte or cappuccino. (I don’t know which it was.) I drink lots of coffee, but rarely lattes or cappuccinos. This egg nog drink was a bit of heaven. I may never drink another because I don’t think it can surpass the Java Joes one.

September 17, 2006

Notes from Civility Sessions at Iowa State University Extension Annual Conference

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

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

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

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

September 06, 2006

Why should you care about civility?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did I go to meetings on time prepared to participate?

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

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

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