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  • Writer's pictureNancy Dering Mock

Accept No Less: From Yourself

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

Over the last decade, organizational climate assessments have reported an increase in incivility in the workplace. Written comments increasingly include words like "hostile," "snarky," "mean," and "bullying." We probably don't need these assessments to tell us that many workplaces range from unpleasant to pathological to toxic, nearly unfit for optimum human performance.

Much has been written about the growing incivility in our institutions. Sociologists cite self-absorption, changing cultural norms, alienating technology, stress and lack of self-regulation, among other causes. Whatever the causes, the lack of civility seeps into workplaces, eroding energy, commitment and enthusiasm. People give up, hide, or in the words of Matthew Kelly, "quit and stay." So, the issue is too important to ignore. If commitment is the heart of an organization, civility is the soul.

So, a challenge for contemporary leaders is creating an environment where people can do their best work: one that is free from drama, meanness, and disrespect. This demands exemplifying and building a culture that is ethical, civil and healthy. Leaders must first be clear in their own minds and draw a bright line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior in the workplace - and then, expect and accept no less from themselves and others. This article deals with expecting and accepting no less from one's self.

Step 1: The first step for leaders is to define what civility in the workplace means to them.

Civility in the workplace goes way beyond simply being nice or polite.

It includes, at a minimum:

  • Showing respect for others, including privacy, space, physical boundaries and time

  • Disagreeing without aspersion, outbursts and interrupting

  • Giving feedback without bullying, threatening and demeaning

  • Communicating thoughtfully, without disparaging, prevaricating or gossiping

  • Extending the benefit of the doubt

  • Offering and accepting apologies

  • Exercising restraint with email and other electronic communication

Step 2: Next, leaders need to start with themselves.

Good questions to ask may be:

  1. Have I unwittingly contributed to condoning incivility here?

  2. Have I made myself clear on my expectations for civil behavior?

  3. How might I be perpetuating a climate that interferes with high performance?

Step 3: And, leaders need to model what is expected.

There is no more powerful shaper of organization culture that what the leaders demonstrate. Leaders hoping to shape a more civil workplace must start by modeling their expectations. There is nothing more damaging to respect for a leader than his or her saying one thing and doing another.

Creating a culture that is safe, conducive to performance, and free from fear does not happen by accident. It starts with leaders defining and modeling what is expected and accepting no less from themselves - in other words, Leading With Civility. The next article will deal with the other side of the coin: how leaders articulate expectations and influence norms and behavior - in other words, Leading For Civility.

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you agree that there is growing incivility in the workplace? Have you witnessed it?

  2. From your experience, what other expectations would you add to Step 1 above? Why?

  3. Leading With Civility entails introspection and leading by example. How can leaders be challenged to examine their own behavior and to model civility?

  4. What are the impliciations for leaders? For you?

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