Four reasons for insisting on civility at work

A story in The National Post recently caught my eye, about Karen Klein, a woman in Greece, New York who, while doing her job as a school bus monitor, was cruelly bullied by a group of seventh grade boys. To me, this story highlighted, once again, the destructive nature of incivility.

So, what does this story have to do with leadership? Well, for one thing, if children are not taught the importance of kindness, good manners and respect for others, they grow up and then rudely impose themselves on unsuspecting and undeserving co-workers. The problem of incivility and bullying simply transfers from the school bus to the workplace. So it could be said that leadership begins at home.

While we all seem to decry bullying, some may believe that civility is a minor consideration at work, especially now when we are pressured by time, having to do more with less and plagued by looming deadlines and demands. Who has time to be polite? Who has time to say “please” and “thank you”? And, who has time to think about how our behaviour is affecting those around us as long as we’re getting the job done?

Well, I think we have to make time. In fact, to me, good manners and consideration for others should be embedded in the culture of every organisation. Here are at least four reasons why:

1. Successful collaboration is not possible without it

Collaboration is a key word in today’s workplace. When we work together to achieve a common, mutually beneficial goal, it is often the case that impatience will raise its ugly head and start goading us into saying things we might not otherwise entertain. It is at these times when a good dose of civility is required. Rude and self-indulgent remarks simply get in the way of achieving a satisfactory outcome. In this context, I like what Wikipedia has to say about civility: “Civility gives us the means to disagree without being disagreeable”. That kind of says it all doesn’t it?

2. How people treat each other inside the organisation will reflect, for good or ill, outside the organisation

This just makes good sense. Those who work in an atmosphere where good manners are the norm will, for the most part respond to their customers and others, in kind. There’s nothing complicated about that. And, for some reason it is my guess that customers are more willing to part with their money if they feel they are being treated with respect.

3. People make their best effort when they feel acknowledged and important

I started my work life in the mailroom of a bank. My job was to open mail and deliver it to its intended recipients in a department of approximately 300 people. Many department managers either completely ignored me or made me the unfortunate recipient of rude, bad tempered remarks. A few however, received their mail with good grace, responding with a well-placed “thank you” and a smile. When this happened, I actually felt I was doing something of value. It was a small gesture but always with a big result and a willingness on my part to do more for those managers who had taken the time to acknowledge my existence, despite my lowly placement on the hierarchical ladder.

4. Civility is key to building relationships and reputations through social media

Today, workplaces extend beyond our walls and borders through technology. Every day, we send emails, text messages and tweets to people, some of whom we have never met face-to-face. To me, civility is an important part of communicating through this media. After all, when we say something on email, Facebook or Twitter it is captured forever. We can’t take it back. And, it shapes the image we create of ourselves which can either reflect who we really are or cast a shadow over us that is difficult to overcome.

Some people might pride themselves in their ability to rattle others with rude behaviour. They say things like, “This is who I am. Get used to it”.

But civility is not about who we are. It is about what we choose to do. And, embedding good manners into an organsation’s modus operandi simply makes sense. It matters. I think Karen Klein would agree.

What do you think?


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