The word civility is surely not new to the language, yet it is not a term you hear spoken every day. It took a “shellacking,” a tea party, and a deadly shooting for a few people to step back and ask “is this really the way ‘we’ want to treat one another?” Of course, most of us, myself included, are quick to blame others before we monitor our own boorishness, but there is something that rings true, at this time, in this world, which says maybe there is a lesson to be learned.

Since the workplace is often an arena for change, a microcosm of the bigger community, I would start there.

Here are four ways I believe civility could be brought to or enhanced in the workplace.

  1. Boundaries: Americans, culturally, are very open and generally friendly people. That’s the good news and the challenge. Civility assumes individuals have private lives and thoughts and they do not always want to share them, and they certainly don’t want them shared with others if told in confidence. Comments about appearance, health, mood, and a long list of other personal matters may not be welcomed or appreciated. The workplace can be a very intimate environment. Many of us sit with or next to someone all day. We travel on public transportation and often eat meals surrounded by co-workers. Creating space and a respectable distance can be hard, but not impossible. As someone who grew up in a large family with a small house, I am familiar with both sides of that coin and know it can work.

    Try this: Take a moment and self-monitor. Do you assume spaces or situations are “ours” when in fact they are not? Do you allow others to violate your environment or privacy? Can you say “I don’t want to speak about that just now.” Or “I’d appreciate if you asked before you sat at my computer.”

  2. Responsiveness: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve signed-on a client who later told me “you were the only person who called me back.” What? We spend all that time building websites, networking, writing, and on and on, and no one calls you back? I have a hard time with that one. It’s dumb. I try and maintain a 100% rule. Why? Because it’s correct, good for business, and I have prejudged messages too often to know I’m often wrong.

    When I worked for Liz Claiborne, Liz had a rule—every piece of correspondence (and we received thousands of resumes) was to be responded to. It was a simple philosophy—each one of those authors was or had the potential to be a customer. Responding to resumes seems to be a thing of the past. I think it’s very short sighted on the part of the employer and just plain uncivil.

    Try this: Figure out a method to respond to your e-mails, phone calls, and other correspondence that is efficient and effective. Make a series of calls or write a group of e-mails together, call or write when you know the person is not likely to be able to respond but will get the message, and create standard templates for responding to FAQs,so you’re not reinventing each time.

  3. Awareness of Others: We’ve all experienced it—the door slammed on you, the vacated chair in the aisle, the person who blocks your way as they type in a text message. I attribute most of this lack of civility to distraction at best and self-absorption at worst. Ear buds, handhelds, urgency, and a lack of immediate repercussions are a few of the contributing factors. But, more important than any of these is an unwillingness to care about others, maybe not intentionally but momentarily and repeatedly.

    Try this: Catch yourself when you are only forward focused; meaning when you don’t look back to see the damage or consequences. Is that how you want to be thought of? Is it the way you want to be treated?

  4. An Appreciation for the Views of Others: Civility requires a certain respect and acceptance that others may not see or act as you. Good managers know all employees can’t and don’t approach things from the same perspective. That’s the beauty of teams. Knowing this is often easier than behaving in a manner that demonstrates appreciation. As the workplace becomes ever more diverse, the opportunity for new approaches only increases. That's if we can be open and civil.

    Try this: Wear a super-sensitive cultural sensor for two days. First day, find as many different ways co-workers either approach, perform, or even argue an issue. Day two, catch yourself being very culturally pure. How much of how you behave is strictly learned or “the way we do this around here”; not just ethnic issues, also workplace cultures. Anyone who has ever been a part of a company merger can speak to those challenges.

As a wrap-up, civility has many sides and faces, yet just a few tenets—self-awareness, sensitivity, boundaries, and responsiveness. Practicing and demanding civility can make your work life more enjoyable, less stressful, and build positive relationships.

(c) Jane Cranston.

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive career coach. She works with success-driven executives, managers and leaders to reach their potential, better manage their boss and staff, as well as develop a career strategy to reach goals and aspirations. Jane is the author of Great Job in Tough Times a step-by-step job search system. Click here to subscribe to her twice monthly Competitive Edge Report.