We have a national civility problem and an unwillingness to communicate about conflict lies at the heart of it. Civility is a challenge in today’s political, professional, and organizational life. It feels like certain norms of discourse have been abandoned in many venues. Lack of civility causes conflict to erupt. Business and association leaders know this all too well serving as the conveners for different interests to come together when they build coalitions.
Civility and Conflict
Civility is defined as formal politeness or courtesy in behavior or speech. Synonyms include attentiveness, affability, respect, and decency, but nastiness seems to be the norm these days. With public discourse degrading and nasty fights appearing daily on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures and city councils, the National Institute for Civil Discourse is urging elected officials and citizens that we can disagree with each other in good faith. As Keith Allred, NICD’s executive director, said recently, “It’s not the difference of opinion on policy that makes us bitter, but thinking they’re a bad person.”
Civility in the Workplace
Controversial topics and disagreements are often the catalyst for uncivil behavior as an argument devolves into something more heated. The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) offered this advice in a blog post from the last presidential election:
· Create a values statement
· Include a company-wide dress code
· Ensure managers are trained on how to “uphold a code of decorum”
All of the above items provide guidance to employees and managers alike on what kind of behavior is permitted and, more importantly, what behavior won’t be tolerated. Providing a dress code that discourages clothing with words on it may limit the likelihood of shirts with political statements from entering the office, for example, and limit the possibility of an argument about politics.
However, these are items that would be in support of your company’s overall foundation and culture. If there already exists a culture of rudeness and unfriendliness, then a deeper problem exists and a dress code is unlikely to correct the course. Establish the company’s values and then work to uphold them. Make sure that all employees understand that civil discourse is expected, but also clearly define what you mean by civil discourse. For example, civil discourse means respectful communication, free of name-calling, intimidation or shaming. In addition, ensure that managers are trained on how to recognize problematic behavior and what to do about it.
The ASAE has a civility pledge, which seeks to hold leaders accountable for ignoring the business of governing and neglecting policy decisions that impact society and the industries and professions associations represent. It holds them accountable for problem solving rather than finger pointing. Also, the American Speech Language Hearing Association is one of numerous organizations that has adopted a civility pledge for its workplace. Their website also provides numerous tools, resources, and sample scenarios that may help you or other companies to develop civility tools for the workplace.
Civility Outside Work
Of course, civility applies outside of the workplace, too. P. M. Forni, co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility project, says, “A crucial measure of our success in life is how we treat each other every day of our lives.” Civility is more than good manners—it’s about kindness and living decently. Through civility, we develop thoughtfulness and foster effective self-expression and communication. Civility allows us to connect successfully with others and to solve problems.
In 2018, the Anti-Defamation League found that 37% of Americans experienced “severe online hate or harassment,” which is a large jump from the 18% they had found in 2017. In addition, 53% of Americans reported experiencing some form of online hate or harassment, not just severe versions. Some of this negative communication came from online trolls or anonymous sources, who purposely seek out other users to abuse. However, not all of this interaction can be laid at the feet of the trolls. Conversations about civil discourse need to occur at all levels, not just in the workplace or with our politicians. Those who function as online group moderators are certainly aware of the fact that users are likely to engage in uncivil discourse at some point. Having a policy in place to the group, and moderators who are empowered to properly address those who are behaving poorly, will help.
A result of a more civil society, both in and outside of the workplace, is more kindness and respect for our neighbors and a more positive environment for all to live and work in. How do you utilize civility in your workplace? Think about how you use those lessons of civility, kindness, and respect for others and how you may be able to expand on those ideas at home or at work.