Civility in the workplace is essential. Not a cold civility as in, “I will be polite to you while on the inside hatred is coursing through my veins.” I mean civility as a culture of respect and forbearance, even curiosity and kindness: a culture where habits of both manners and mores exist that helps everyone navigate how to act and interact with one another.
Uncivil behavior in the workplace drives down productivity, kills employee engagement, and impacts your bottom line. People are effective when they are bringing their best selves to work, and when their colleagues do likewise.
Researcher and author Lars Andersson defines workplace civility as “behaviors that help to preserve the norms for mutual respect in the workplace; civility reflects concern for others.” Thomas Spath and Cassandra Dahnke, co-founders of the Institute for Civility in Government, assert: “Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity without degrading someone else’s in the process.”
But how do we put these ideals into practice?
Here is a quick list of norms that can cultivate great civility in your workplace today:
1. Say “please” and “thank you”. We learned it in kindergarten and the lesson still applies. It applies to everyone, from CEO to front line new hire: thank people for their work, their attention, their time, their effort. I recall a Professor in college who would recapture everyone’s attention by saying in a very quiet voice, “May I please have your attention now.” That quiet authority spoke volumes. When she spoke we paid attention.
“Thank you” is the most valuable habit a leader can have. How else will people know what behavior to repeat? “Thank you” is a great way to instill the values, expectations and aspirations you desire. And a public thank you that is specific and swings between the personal and the communal helps everyone know which direction to move to create success:
“Bill, your presentation on Friday was excellent. The slides were few, easy to read and captured both your point and the attention of our audience with great images. You were prepared with your data, but knew it cold enough that you simply peppered the facts in with a larger story. Most helpful were the few, on-point specific examples you gave to illustrate your key points. Everyone in the audience stayed with you, and I had several positive comments from the client. Great work.”
Now Bill and everyone else know several things to do or keep doing to be successful in their work. It adds so much more value than simply saying, “Great job with the presentation Friday, Bill.”
When thank you is leveraged as an opportunity to coach the right habits, everyone wins!
2. Be respectful of other people’s time.
Being on time communicates respect. So does ending on time. Time is our most valuable asset: use it wisely.
3. Say “I’m sorry” when you make a mistake or damage, intentionally or unintentionally, a relationship. Here is the hard part: work on meaning it when you say it. This is not as easy as it seems: we need to allow ourselves to feel regret, to experience empathy for the other party, and then honestly and wholeheartedly say, “I am sorry.” Look the other person in the eyes when saying, “I am sorry.” Your regret will show, and that will make a difference to the person or people involved.
4. Respect and pay close attention to the ideas and perspectives of others.
I could spend a great deal of time with this one, but I will move on to:
5. Listen. Really listen. Listening is an essential skill, yet it is one we do not practice. What levels of excellence could we achieve if we became expert listeners? Begin by remaining quiet and deeply attentive when others are speaking. Pay close attention to the words, gestures, ideas and meaning. Attempt to see the world through their eyes. It is a powerful experience to be listened to thoroughly.
Robert Fulghum, in his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, captured the essence of civility when he quipped: “Play fair. Don’t hit people. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.”
For more on this topic I recommend Pier Massimo Forni’s book, Choosing Civility, the Twenty Five Rules of Considerate Conduct.