“Our manners are an outward expression of our inward character. Our character determines our behavior. Our society was designed for a people who are civil and can control their behavior.” Judi Vankevich Director, Canadian Project for Manners & Civility.
Civility used to be the foundation for how we conducted our communication and interactions with others at work, on the school ground, on the road, and the internet. Everyone was taught that name calling, talking disparagingly about others, flipping the bird, or shaking a fist was not acceptable. Respect for others was considered classy – a sign of a good upbringing. We now seem to live in a world where people distrust, lash out, demonize others, and are angry and hostile. As an organizational consultant, I regularly see uncivil behavior that leads to toxic, dysfunctional, and just plain unhappy organizations. When an organization becomes unhappy and employees demoralized, it is challenging to undo and rebuild the culture and team. Both employees and leaders are harmed as well as company productivity and success.
Have we abandoned civility and respect for people in our organizations? Is the concept of civility idealistic and antiquated? I don’t think so. Organizations need leaders that proactively encourage employees to make more thoughtful and respectful behavior choices.
As individuals and organizations, we need to be aware that incivility has become systemic and pervasive in our culture. We seem to be closing in on a tipping point in North American society – a point where disrespect and poor manners have become the benchmark for acceptable behavior. Pier M. Forni, author of The Civility Solution: What to Do When People are Rude and director of The Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, has said, "In today's America, incivility is on prominent display: in the schools, where bullying is pervasive; in the workplace, where an increasing number are more stressed out by coworkers than their jobs; on the roads, where road rage maims and kills; in politics, where strident intolerance takes the place of earnest dialogue; and on the Web, where many check their inhibitions at the digital door."
It is easy to forget that co-workers have life experiences that have culminated in the thinking and feeling persons they are. We need more respect and tolerance towards people we work with as well people in general.
How do we, as leaders and employees, push back against incivility? It starts with us as individuals and how we respond to others. Organizations need to set the bar for how people are expected to interact and behave at work. Of critical importance, leaders need to walk the talk and ensure that everyone is accountable for civil and respectful behavior. There is no excuse for rudeness, bullying, and disrespect in the workplace. Organizations need to develop a culture that encourages individuals to develop that basic regard for others. Civility and respect at work, as well as on the playground, on the road, and on the internet starts with individuals. Everyone has to step up to the plate. It is up to both leaders and employees to contribute to turning the tide on our increasingly uncivil culture.