ci•vil•i•ty n 1 archaic : training in the humanities 2 courtesy, politeness; a polite act or expression
So what’s the relationship between civility and diversity? If we
really think about the goals of diversity, we are seeking a workplace
where different perspectives and experiences can be mutually respected
and fostered for the betterment of the organization. If we can create a
civil environment, we will be better able to cultivate a diverse
environment. And if we fail to cultivate a civil environment, all of
our diversity efforts will be for naught. To put it simply, a polite,
courteous and welcoming work environment furthers diversity efforts by
creating a workplace where people—all kinds of people—want to contribute
to their fullest potential.
We’ve all experienced incivility in the workplace. A flippant remark
from a co-worker. An accusatory e-mail copied to everyone in the
library. A co-worker who never cleans up their mess. A meeting
interrupted by late arrivals, early departures, or inattentive
participants. Incivility often goes unnoticed, unless you are the
recipient of the incivility. The byproducts of incivility can be
significant, including lowered productivity through reduced hours worked
or reduced effort, intent on revenge or retribution, or even departure
from the workplace.
What does a more civil environment produce?
- Collaborations—staff members work together effectively and achieve objectives more efficiently
- Ideas—without fear of being dismissed or ridiculed, staff members will suggest new ideas for improving the organization
- Customer Satisfaction—when co-workers work together, they work better, enriching our users’ experiences
- Retention—if yours is a workplace where people
treat each other well and are truly happy, then staff will be less
likely to leave the comfortable work environment you have created
Building a More Civil Workplace
When it comes to finding information and instruction for how to
become more civil, there is probably no better source—and likely its
easily available in your ready reference section—than Emily Post’s Etiquette.
Here, we provide some adapted instruction to address some of the most
regular opportunities to increase civility in the workplace.
- Just say hello (or good morning, good afternoon, or how are you). It’s easy—just saying hello will demonstrate the respect and the concern you have for those you work with.
- Learn names. Yes, names are important. If you’ve
forgotten a name, politely ask for help or a reminder. Respect proper
uses (Michael vs. Mike) and pronunciations.
- Practice good conversation. Engage in conversation that is
relevant to both parties. Don’t just wait for your next opportunity to
talk—listen to what other people say and consider it.
- Avoid interruption. Interruption can have varying degrees
of impact depending on who you are speaking with. Interrupting a
subordinate or someone from an underrepresented group can be seen as an
assertion of dominance or a diminishment of their value as a person.
- Remember what your parents said. Please, thank you, you’re
welcome, excuse me, and I’m sorry—these are the essentials for
demonstrating respect for your colleagues.
- Respect time. If you are conducting a meeting, be aware of
the value of attendees’ time and use it efficiently and effectively.
If you are attending a meeting, respect the beginning and end times.
- Make invites inclusive. One of the most important meeting
responsibilities is to invite the right people. Failing to invite
legitimate stakeholders or intentionally excluding individuals can can
seed mistrust and anger in your workplace.
- Some things are best suited for one-on-one. Instead of
discussing items in front of everyone, save it for a later time when it
can be addressed privately. Airing grievances or criticisms in front of
everyone only increases the potential for disrespect.
- Be Informative and participative. Whether you are a
convener or a participant, make the most of the participative
opportunities of meetings. Avoid dominating the conversation,
contribute constructive comments and questions, know when to listen and
avoid the distractions of mobile phones or laptops unless they are used
for the meeting.
- The medium sometimes isn’t right for the message. Not
every message is suitable for e-mail—sensitive communications with
supervisors or subordinates, criticisms, etc are probably best left for
in-person conversations where emotional nuances can be better conveyed.
- Check and double-check. While it is a quick and effective
means of communication, taking an extra moment to make sure the e-mail
is addressed correctly and to reread the content to ensure that its tone
and content are accurate and appropriate is worthwhile.
- Forward for information. Many messages are worth
forwarding if your intent is to share the information. Adding
commentary, especially criticism or sarcasm, is dangerous (the forward
can get back to the original sender) and detrimental (perpetuating your
negativity onto other staff members who may not need it).
- Proceed with caution. E-mails quickly become public
documents and your employer has the right to read e-mail on company
servers. If you wouldn’t want your employer to see you message or to
have your message made publicly available, reconsider or revise what you
These ideas were created by the American Library Association (ALA).
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