Fostering Civility in the Workplace

Fostering Civility in the Workplace

By Julie Ann Bittner
TRICOM President / CEO

Around the world, we have traded civility for much lesser dialogue.  We are not only disagreeing we are dividing. What happened to behaviors that produce feelings of respect, dignity, and trust? Unfortunately, acts of incivility are often easier to identify (and are done so far too often).

I had the pleasure to attend the Global Leadership Summit again this year on August 5th and 6th, and one of the many presenters was Shola Richards. Recognized as an authority on workplace happiness and engagement, Shola’s articles and wildly popular “Positivity Solution” series have reached readers in over 160 countries. He is the Founder and CEO of Go Together Global, having shared his transformative message with leading healthcare organizations, top universities, Silicon Valley, the motion picture industry and on the TEDx stage; his greatest honor being the keynote speaker for the Department of Homeland Security three days before the 15th Anniversary of 9/11.

Shola’s presentation on workplace civility deeply resonated with me. I feel we, as leaders, have a role in leading culture back to civility.

Workplace incivility has been defined as low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target. Uncivil behaviors are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others.1

Then what is civility? Civility is a demonstration of respect. Researcher and author Lars Anderson defines workplace civility as “Behaviors that help preserve the norms for mutual respect in the workplace.”

According to Shola, “We are defined by how we treat each other. There are two types of people in this world: those who make you feel good when they walk into the room and those that make you feel good when they walk out of the room. The difference is civility.”

How to lead others with civility?
Brennan Manning, author and public speaker, once stated that, “In every encounter, you either give life or drain it. There is no neutral exchange.” Many leaders are unaware of how their words and actions impact others. Lead with giving LIFE!

Shola encourages us to “connect to your HIRE (not Higher) self – remember the person you said you were when you interviewed? That’s the person. If you would never say it in a job interview, don’t say it at work.”

Through all of Shola’s research, he found Five Values for Leading Others With Civility:

  1. Value Their Work/Ideas – Respect the wisdom of the people closest to the work. What tools can you give them to make sure you serve them better?  
  2. Value Their Roles – Appreciate the importance of everyone’s unique contribution. We all play a role.
  3. Value Their Time – Consistently honor their most precious resource. Start and end your one-on-one meetings on time. Put your phone away and just focus on the person.  
  4. Value Their Skills – Demonstrate that you trust them and their ability to get the job done. The highest respect you can give someone is to trust them.  
  5. Value Their Humanity – Connect personally, recognize their effort and show them grace. All bad behavior is an unskilled expression of an unmet need.

As I did my own research, I came across additional values such as: being inclusive, paying attention, being observant and considerate to others, and acknowledging other people.

It’s not only in the workplace we need to focus on civility but also in society - social civility. Even during the time I was writing this article, I witnessed a customer’s rude interaction with a coffee barista who felt she waited too long to receive her item. I can’t help but think that workplace civility could also lead to a higher level of social civility, as well.

When I googled the definition of social civility, I discovered that it is viewed as consisting of the degree to which people have a sense of duty or obligation to society, the extent of their concern for the welfare of others, as well as for themselves. In many ways, this definition can apply to both society and the workplace.

We can all point fingers to where we feel are the biggest contributors to incivility in the United States, but at the core of it all, it starts with each one of us. I feel it is now something we increasingly demand for ourselves and refuse to afford others, but it doesn’t have to remain this way.

In closing, Shola’s message to us all is to Lead With Civility. The world needs it more than ever! I couldn’t agree with him more.

The Global Leadership Summit is a an online and in-person event at over 500 in-person host sites for hundreds of thousands of curious, growth-minded, change-driven men and women across the U.S. For more information and to view their diverse educational offerings, visit