When I talk to executives and business leaders, I often ask this question. I’m not trying to be provocative—it’s not a rhetorical question. I’m genuinely interested in encouraging civility to become a part of every organization’s DNA.
Such conversations help me articulate that I believe the most effective way to embed civility into a company’s culture is by building it right into the value statement. So, I ask: “Does your organization value civility?” If not, you’re missing out on an opportunity to demonstrate to your employees—and your stakeholders—that your business is grounded in practices designed to demonstrate respect and earn trust. Civility then becomes a value to highlight as part of your business’s moral foundation, and one you can reference as a framework for making decisions.
Civility is more than simply good manners and good behavior. In its essence, civility is a way of identifying the core actions and behaviors necessary for a group to function together. It requires each individual stakeholder to recognize the humanity in those around them and to want to find the best path forward for the benefit of the whole.
Our employees need to know what our organizations stand for, which behaviors will be acceptable with coworkers and customers, and what impact we want to have in our communities. Transparency and a corporate culture with clearly stated principles matter to today’s job seekers. With more teams functioning remotely, it’s critical to ensure that every employee is aligned and clearly understands the impact they should strive to have inside and outside the organization.
That’s why I encourage you to ensure that civility is counted as a key element in your value statement. Each member of your organization who is firmly grounded in the actions and behaviors evident in someone with a deep understanding and appreciation of civility will naturally collaborate more effectively and engage with customers in a more constructive way.
The Five Core Tenets
I identify the five core principles of civility in my book, Civility Rules!, These tenets are fundamental to ensuring that a group of people can acknowledge their differences while still finding a way to work cooperatively in pursuit of a common set of goals. Perhaps we can spend a little time brainstorming how best to incorporate these principles in a way that is meaningful for our companies:
- Courtesy: How can our team demonstrate a thoughtfulness or generosity in communications or interactions with others?
- Humility: How can we build strong and confident teams while respecting and reflecting on our place in our community and in our world as “one among many?”
- Empathy: Which activities, traditions, and communication skills can we turn into practices that show we care for our colleagues, customers, and fellow human beings?
- Trust: This value requires a strong relationship centered in reliance on, and confidence in, the word and deed of others. What can we do in our company’s processes and procedures that will build and maintain a 360-degree trust circle?
- Respect: How can we demonstrate that we honor the people around us?
At first, these principles may seem like they have no place in a competitive business environment focused on profit and growth, but I respectfully disagree. (Note how I incorporated a little communications civility there?)
I believe businesses that demonstrate their organization’s respect for the individual, the community, and even their competitors consistently perform better and attract dedicated, values-based workers. Employees feel honored, they know that their contributions are valued, and they recognize that the work they are doing has meaning. The bottom line is that civility is the new bottom line.
Let’s Get Started
Let’s begin by asking ourselves a few key questions:
- What does our organization stand for? Are the tenets of civility a part of our ethos?
- Do our employees and customers know this?
- Do our interactions with customers and one another build relationships of respect, trust, and empathy? Do we have mechanisms to encourage, measure, and reward these behaviors?
- What impact do we currently have in our community? What impact do we want to have? Where can the concept of civility fit in?
It’s easy to lose sight of our business’s foundational principles—its soul—in the fast pace of day-to-day interactions. That’s why it’s critical for us to understand the impact civility will have on our company, ensure that it is rooted deeply in our value statement, and tend it well.