Human resources strategist, VF Career Management, Calgary office.
Isn't it time we all started being nicer to each other? There is lots of talk about continuing the #MeToo social-media movement, which no doubt will come with more allegations of inappropriate conduct in the workplace. More high-profile names will be released, and more careers will be in ruin.
For those of us who want to be more proactive about creating workplaces where such behaviour doesn't happen in the first place, I propose making 2018 the Year of Civility. By its dictionary definition, civility means politeness and courtesy, and is related to orderly behaviour by citizens. As the U.S.-based Institute for Civility in Government quite rightly defines it, it is about "disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one's preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same."
Lately, we seem to be surrounded by the opposite – and incivility appears dangerously contagious. Seeing high-profile celebrities or industry leaders and, especially, elected officials behaving badly can cause others in more "commoner" roles to think this is the new normal and act out accordingly. Let's not let that happen. We can be better.
Civility, after all, is rooted in respect.
Respond to messages
Start with some basics – if someone reaches out to network professionally, or to raise a difficult issue, have the civility to return the call or e-mail. Sounds simple, but it is not as commonly practised as it used to be. The reality is that we have all been in a place where we need help from others – be it a research conversation, getting information about an opportunity or simply the desire to build a new professional relationship. Not returning a phone call or an e-mail, especially if this person knows someone you know, is simply uncivil.
Equally uncivil is telling that person you do not have time. We all have time, and we can start the Year of Civility by returning that phone call or e-mail the minute it catches your attention. This kind of civility goes both ways. If someone offers to help you, take them up on it. Civility crosses the lines of different social ranks and workplace titles, and reminds us that everyone merits respect and attention.
Especially in our workplaces, we need to dump the outmoded and elitist "knowledge is power" saying from the last century and embrace a view that, the more everyone knows, the more engaged (and happier) they will be. And a happy employee is a good employee.
Recently, I examined civility in a project I was working on. How do employees define civility in a workplace? Collegiality and co-operation are part of the picture, but more important by far was transparent, two-way communications. Having the opportunity to be included in difficult discussions about the business, to have their views heard, even if not all the input was accepted by leadership, scored higher in importance for employees than fair treatment for all.
In the larger picture, no one is more important than someone else, and everyone deserves the courtesy and respect of being able to share their knowledge and insights. Whatever your role at work, encourage communication with those you might not normally think to include, even if you anticipate that they might have contrary views. You may even get a different perspective – one that challenges your own, fills in the blind spots in your own preconceptions and makes for a better outcome.
Unplug to focus
Much has been written about the effects our smartphones have on our social life, as well as our ability to have a productive, non-interrupted, focused conversation. Remember sitting with someone and giving them your undivided, uninterrupted attention for at least an hour? Chances are it was years ago, before you were reachable 24/7 and had reminder beeps for every other thing you could be doing.
Be civil, and give someone all your time and attention – and stop letting your phone have priority. That device does not care about you (as much as your phone's digital assistant professes otherwise), but the person in front of you does. So, buy a watch, and go have a conversation with someone without your phone. It will take some getting used to, but you will be getting back those good habits you have lost.
Respect, inclusive communication and focus – three necessary components to make 2018 the Year of Civility. We all have it, and have practised it in the past. If we need anything as an antidote to more #MeToo stories, let's make it #BeCivil.