In a divided country and increasingly cruel and crass world, civility is needed more than ever.
Families are splitting apart over politics. Students are disrespectful of their teachers. Business “professionals” hurl insults on social media. People don’t even look at each other when they pass by. And, even if they do, they can’t hear you say, “Good morning,” because they’re wearing earbuds.
In the midst of the noise and chaos, there were two major U.S. events in August that brought people together: the total solar eclipse and Hurricane Harvey. In these moments, civility reigned, and it has a direct correlation to confidence.
During the eclipse, without being prompted, people chose kindness.
My daughter, Margaret, who lives in Manhattan, saw people share their goofy-looking, eclipse glasses with strangers. A man in a business suit offered his glasses to a street person, so he could witness this celestial phenomenon 240,000-miles away.
My husband and I were in the narrow “path of totality” in Madras, Oregon—population, 6,700. After the eclipse, 100,000 of us headed out of town on a two-lane road. We witnessed no road rage.
As my friend, Lisa, said, “There was a collective ‘Awe’ that the eclipse inspired. For that day, we were one country, under one sun, and one moon.”
One week later, Hurricane Harvey slammed Texas and southwestern Louisiana, yet in that tragedy, strangers helped strangers, regardless of age, race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual identity. Neighbors, in rib-high water, formed human chains. One chain saved the life of a woman in labor. She got to the hospital. It’s a girl!
So, how can we sustain this civility and connection among diverse and often disconnected people? I believe, when you treat someone decently, it lifts both of you up, and that builds collective confidence.
I grew up in a big family where civility was celebrated. We ate dinner together almost every night. At our table, everybody had a chance to talk, and everybody learned to listen. That’s where we learned Civility Lesson #1. Treat everyone as if they are the most important person in the room.
Years later, I realized that those family dinners helped shape my career. As a TV news reporter, I had to make connections fast. I introduced myself by looking people in the eye, giving my first and last name, and whenever possible, shaking their hand. I asked questions, and then, listened.
That’s when I learned Civility Lesson #2. When people feel seen, heard, and respected you can connect and everyone benefits.
Civility needs to start with each person. This is no different than an intimate relationship. You have to give love to get love, and in business, you have to give value to gain value. For instance, you can send an email to a business prospect with the subject line, “Thought of You,” and include something that is helpful to their industry or goals. No strings attached!
But, don’t wait for others to act civilized. Initiate it, model it, and watch what happens. It will increase your professional capitol and can positively distinguish you.
I asked for personal examples of civility in the Confidence Project community. We quickly discovered there’s a distinction between courtesy and civility. Courtesy is being polite and mannerly, such as being prompt, not interrupting people, replying to emails, texts, and voicemails, honoring an RSVP, offering a smile, writing a hand-written note, and of course, remembering, “please” and “thank you.”
Civility, however, requires higher level thinking and behavior. It stops you before your knee-jerk reactions or regrettable words take over. It forces you to consider others and control your impulses.
Here are 10 modern-day Acts of Civility to practice:
1. “Listen with the intent to learn from each person, instead of focusing on your reply.” – Lisa Zigarmi
2. “Respond to political opinions without shame, blame, or name calling.” – Erin Donley
3. “Put down your phone and be present.” – Jake French
4. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Remember, ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ are both good answers.”– Emily Niedermeyer Becker
5. “Be calm, patient, and generous in traffic.” – Libby Bagli Nagle
6. “Publicly recognize others’ efforts, ideas, and successes.”– Dave Ribbens
7. “Acknowledge people beyond your colleagues—parking attendants, grocery store clerks, and front desk staff. A smile and ‘Good Morning’ go a long way.” – Mary Bayles
8. “Listen to the wisdom of your elders, and thank military people for their service. When you can, give them something of kindness in return—a meal, coffee, or your seat on the plane, if it’s better than theirs.” – Sherry Jordan
9. “Avoid profanity. It shows you have a lack of restraint, vocabulary, and imagination.” – Mary Klaff
10. “Thank people for their feedback, even when it’s delivered in a rude or emotional manner. This models civil discourse by immediately letting them know that you’re willing to be in conversation and that your relationship is important.”
– Nicole Foran
BONUS! “Open doors—physically for all, and metaphorically, for people you want to mentor, sponsor, or just help.” – Tracy Hooper
Good news! There’s a movement towards civility. The NFL has an official Spectator Code of Conduct. There’s also The Civility Project, the National Civility Foundation, and a D.C. nonprofit group who interviews chief executives of Fortune 500 companies to understand the impact of incivility in the workplace. Data suggests, “For the first time, co-workers are the #1 cause of work-related stress.” We can change that statistic.
FOR THE NEXT 30 DAYS – Practice one Act of Civility every day. Most of us are inherently decent. August 2017 showed us the best and worst of Mother Nature. Let’s model and show the best of Human Nature with civility.
*Image Courtesy Sandin Riddle of Harrisburg, Oregon