compliments of Jeanne-Erin via Flickr

Professional workshops consist of courses to enhance our standing at work: these include technical skills training or demeanor with clients (e.g., assertiveness and public speaking). Rarely do we think of character development as a critical tool in our employment portfolio. In this culture it seems that “clawing” your way to the top is common, with our gentler coworkers bearing the stripes of peers’ ruthless behavior.

Nowhere in the curriculum (either graduate or undergraduate) is civility stressed as a necessary skill set. Precisely because we give this quality such short shrift is why we see it so seldom practiced at work. It’s “me first,” with a focus on others at rock bottom in our agenda. Ransacking people’s self-esteem seems a savage way to conduct our business. defines civility as “a polite action or expression.” Below are some ways you can practice this virtue in your everyday interactions.

  1. Exchange pleasantries. Instead of running past cubicles as if your building was on fire, stop and chat. You peers do not exist solely for (your own) utilitarian purposes. When relationships are arm in arm (as opposed to arm’s length) there is true friendship instead of feigned civility. Friendliness is the glue that holds office place relationships in tact.  
  2. Be the one to say “hello” first. It’s not a stare down match where you dare the other person to look away.
  3. Avoid gossip – don’t manufacture it, and don’t participate in slam sessions of other people. Note that if someone disses their coworkers, they will most likely talk about you.
  4. Build upon a speaker’s points. Providing scaffolding for a peer’s arguments is a great way to boost their self-esteem, and to encourage future contributions. We see this phenomenon when someone is trying to score points with their more aggressive colleagues, but we rarely see it otherwise. In genuine community there are no sides. Conflict is resolved without bloodshed, and disagreements are discussed without fear of reprisal. 
  5. Don’t engage in degrading speech or behavior. Ogling and sexist/racist comments are unacceptable work related conduct.
  6. Ensure that what you do in private matches your public persona. High self-monitors can smile at your face, but later hijack your efforts. Live as if you are hooked to a live camcorder (and see if your actions don’t change for the better).
  7. Maintain an even keel. No one likes talking to people who expect them to walk on eggshells or to test the waters. Snappishness is a trait best left to the animal species.
  8. Consult with people before you do something that will impact them personally. Not everyone shares your taste (or lack thereof), and they’ll exhibit more buy in if they’re made a part of the process. You’re likely to gain more allies that way as well.
  9. Speak with others directly so you have an office of friends, as opposed to a den of informants.
  10. [If you’re a manager] treat employees as equals and not as children who need to be corrected and closely watched. Your efforts to over control may in fact work at cross purposes to achieving your goals: the Pygmalion Effect suggests that individuals grow to behave the way they’re treated.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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One Response
  1. Jackie…..this is excellent.

  2. Bil Lien on September 26th, 2011 at 3:11 am