Civility means different things to different people. So, when we start dialogues in our workplaces about civility or the lack there of, plus the expectations of civility and what that looks like, we have to consider how each of us approaches the topic in a different way.
For example, I was taught that nice little girls are polite no matter what. I spent a large part of my younger years giving a social answer or self-deprecating answer, always folding under in the face of a louder or more strident opinion. Don’t rock the boat; never take a chance on offending someone.
Let’s say someone else has the idea “It’s okay for me to always speak my mind, and I don’t care who I offend, it’s my right to say what I think.”
It is upbringing, experience, personality, emotional capacity, moral compass, and more that effects our actions and decisions about what civility is…
In workshops, when we start a dialogue about what Civility “is,” the answers vary widely but seem to follow the theme of how others behave or how others treat us.
Comments about Civility include:
· I hate when people let the door slam on you. People need to look behind them and hold the door for other people.
· I want someone to respect that I have different beliefs, and not make comments about my choices.
· I want him to agree to disagree, and try to maintain politeness with me in future interactions, and I will do the same.
· When people interrupt me, especially in meetings, its rude and I’d like people to be aware of that and try not to interrupt.
· I think we should all try to be kinder, and put ourselves in other people’s shoes.
The phrasing is interesting sometimes, in that people often talk about what others should do: “People should slow down and stop tailgating” or “people should stop talking so loudly on their cell phones…”
So, let’s try a different exercise. How are YOU going to be more civil? Because we only control ourselves, right? But we have the power to influence others.
So, let’s try this:
· Today, I am going to be kind to people, even something small like a smile.
· I’m going to be aware of the challenges others face and try to put myself in their shoes.
· I’m going to say hello to everyone I pass on the street, no matter who it is.
· I’m going to be aware of the mess I leave in the staff kitchen and work harder to clear it up.
· I’m going to get to know Tom better, since he and I do not see eye to eye, so that we have a more common ground to operate from at work.
Now, THESE have a little more substance to them, they are action based, and they start with “me.” I can influence others, inspire others, affect others, but only control myself.
The next step of civility is to see how long it lasts. It’s human nature that I intend to smile and say hello to everyone I pass in the hallway at the office, until someone is mean to me and then — forget it! People are mean to me so I’m not going to be nice to them… it’s a lot harder to maintain the civility in the face of rudeness, thoughtlessness, and aggressive behavior.
Take that to a global scale, we see it play out in conflicts all over the country and the world.
So, maybe we can all take a few minutes to think about how we feel about civility. Is it the way I want or expect others to treat me? Is it the way I intend to treat others? And how do we – all of us – sustain it, no matter how another person behaves?
There is no magic answer and it’s not easy, but within our workplaces, it is important that we start conversations about civility, about mutual respect for all people (everyone gets the same hello as the CEO), and how we want our workplaces to feel. The actions then are not pointing fingers at others, but our own ownership for being part of the solution.