Several years ago (2002) I met an author – Giovinella Gontheir: RUDE Awakenings. I was first attracted to the title of her book simply because it sounded like the name of a business I once wanted to start (Brewed Awakenings) a coffee and wine bar. I met her during a workshop I was attending on Civility in the workplace, and was able to continue a relationship for a bit of time afterwards.
Gontheir spoke of a systemic change that was required throughout an organization; from the way performance was measured and appraisals conducted; to policies on conduct in the workplace.
Civility is imperative in any business environment: or workplace. Employee and customer retention, productivity and morale – all being impacted by so much Incivility.
Too often, the impact of incivility is felt through many threads of contact rarely thought as being uncivil: one being too casual of a dress code. Now, how can that be in the same vein as being civil? One way is determining what is too casual for a workplace. When could ‘casual dress’ be confusing? Well, beyond suggestive clothing (too provocative or slogans on T-shirts), there is a lack of specificity on such policies in the workplace. Casual ‘Day’ in some organizations may revolve around a theme (such as Hawaiian shirts or support of a local sports team). That actually contributes to camaraderie. However, when the clothing in the office can become too casual without some guidelines. Basically, respect for each other, for the organization and the customers it serves, is often reflected in the attire worn by employees.
Other opportunities that civility is challenged:
- Meetings. Being civil in meetings starts with being on time. Proper decorum. Balancing your own contributions with that of others, instead of monopolizing the time and effort.
- Communications. From basic telephone calls to speaker phones to voice mail messages to cell phones to emails; all can be easily misinterpreted or ill-conceived.
- Body language. How one sits at a meeting or training session: slouching or nodding off of course is disrespectful and shows a lack of interest. Rolling eyes and folded arms and convey other messages, even unintentionally.
Yet systemic change doesn’t happen from the ground up; it happens from the top down – and then it takes a real effort. Leaders need to ‘Walk the Talk’; put things in writing, be an example to others. Beyond dress codes or expectations, it’s in the manner in which we speak to each other. Are we abrupt or attacking when talking with one another? Or, are we addressing someone as they are a brand new contact and we want to make a good impression and give the benefit of the doubt? Can there be a happy medium?
We wonder what your organization has done, at least internally, to promote civility in the workplace. We often talk about improving customer relations and service levels. Why not start from within?
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs implemented an organization-wide cultural change initiative more than 10 years ago. After receiving feedback from employees that low levels of employee feedback that low levels of civility affected their level of job satisfaction, it has since been utilized by over 1,200 VA workgroups to establish a culture of respect and civility throughout their entire organization.
Civility is an essential behavior of all employees in all organizations. These are the interpersonal “rules of engagement” for how we relate to each other, our customers, and our stakeholders; the fundamentals of courtesy, politeness, and consideration.
Respect connects us at a personal level. It reflects an attitude developed from deep listening and understanding, cultural and personal sensitivity, and compassion. It honors all the participants in an interaction by creating a safe place to have difficult conversations and leads to an environment of honesty and mutual trust.
Engagement is the result of respectful relationships within an atmosphere of trust. It provides all staff with the charge, the parameters, the training and the support to make decisions “on the spot” in the best interest of the veteran.