A Note on Civility

One of the comments about President Bush 41 in this week of memorializing his legacy was not to mistake civility for weakness. I thought this was particularly meaningful in an era where civility has taken a public back seat to disrespect and rudeness.

Civility recognizes the humanity of others. In fact, it embodies core characteristics of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy.

Self-awareness is the foundational element of emotional intelligence. When you pay attention to your behavior and how it resonates with others, you diminish the possibility of inadvertently ignoring someone, for example.

When you exercise self-regulation, you pause and consider the impact your words and actions have on others. Think before you blurt: it may make the difference between how a colleague views you not just in the current situation, but on an ongoing basis.

Empathy is expressed when you put yourself in another person’s shoes and behave accordingly. The last part is important. A manager can verbally express empathy (“I feel badly that Sharon is sick”), but if that same manager acts annoyed with Sharon because she missed a few days of work, the words and actions are not aligned.

That brings it back to civility. Research by Christine Pearson and Christine Porath identifies costs of incivility in the workplace. Among their stunning findings, of the workers who were on the receiving end of incivility, 48% intentionally decreased their work effort, 47% intentionally decreased their time spent at work, and 38% intentionally decreased the quality of their work.

You do the math. Leaders need to “own” the importance of civil behavior on the job. This isn’t rocket science. Start with something as simple as saying “please” and “thank you” and you may turn a few heads. And, they might stick around more.

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