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The Power of Civility

People across the United States believe there is too much incivility in our culture. This has been true for several years, predating the 2016 election, believe it or not. The PR firm Weber Shandwick has been surveying Americans about civility annually since 2010. Over the years, they have consistently found that more than 60% of Americans surveyed believe that a lack of civility in society is a major problem.

In the executive summary for the 2011 report, they state,

Civility, and the lack of it, in America begs greater understanding of how Americans’ lives are impacted and how Americans can take more responsibility for their communications and interactions online and offline.

Civility @ Work - A Ray of Hope

Civility in the workplace, the focus of their 2018 survey, was found to be a “ray of hope:” A similar proportion of people who consider incivility to be a problem also report that their workplaces tend to be more civil than uncivil. In fact, Weber Shandwick found that 92% of employed Americans with coworkers (who took the survey) describe their workplace as very or somewhat civil - an increase since 2016!

Interestingly, what makes some workplaces civil and some not comes down to some basic things we already know about leadership and happy workplaces.

Leaders of Civil Workplaces

Civil workplaces tend to have leaders who are perceived by others as being civil, which goes along with the concept that leaders always set the tone for their workplace’s culture. Employees in civil workplaces tend to trust management to handle complaints about incivility, which seems to match the idea that happier workplaces tend to have higher levels of trust between people, period. (There’s great research available about trust at work.) Finally, employees in civil workplaces feel safer reporting uncivil conduct to the powers that be than do those in uncivil workplaces (one of those “duh" research moments, but still important to note).

As for uncivil workplaces, most of those surveyed reported a negative impact - either at work or at home.

Another interesting point: 42% of Americans surveyed would support civility training in the workplace. (We can help with that.) Christine Porath’s book Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace was inspired by her own experience working in an uncivil environment.

Civility, Diversity, and Inclusion

I think my favorite section of the latest Civility in America report is the piece diving deeper into diversity and inclusion. Those survey respondents who said their workplace is uncivil tended to also report that their employers are “weak on diversity and inclusion.” Most of the those surveyed who are currently employed with coworkers felt that diversity and inclusion training was useful, and many said it should be mandatory.

To my mind, this points directly back to civility: Both civility and diversity & inclusion are integral to social interactions, at work, at home, and throughout the communities where we live. And when we’re stressed out, which often happens at work because of uncivil behavior from other people, we tend to stop connecting with people. Then, we’re more likely to respond in a more uncivil manner. Think about it: You have so much work on your plate, you have no idea how to accomplish all of it. Or the project is so important, you may be fired if it’s sub-par. Now, the next time a coworker calls, Slacks, or comes by to say hi, to ask for help, or even to offer assistance, what’s your first response? Is it to graciously say, “Oh, hello. I can’t talk right now. I’m feeling a lot of pressure. Perhaps you could help?” Or is it something more like, “What do you want? No!”

Sadly, people are even more likely to respond in this uncivil manner to people they perceive as different from them.


Weber Shandwick has several great recommendations for workplaces:

  • Leaders should lead on civility - set the example they want to be the norm in their workplace.

  • Align shared values around civility - ensure that civil behavior is a top value.

  • Prioritize diversity and inclusion - require training at all levels, with recognition that diversity and inclusion and civility go hand-in-hand.

  • Make sure employee communications are tailored and culturally relevant - part of inclusion is speaking everyone’s language.

  • Commit, in action, to advancing diversity and inclusion. This means more than just training. Create overall knowledge - throughout your organization - that diversity, inclusion, and civility are all deeply connected to running a profitable business, and they are expected as a basic business norm throughout your organization.


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