Volume 86, May 2008: Civility

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

This is a monthly electronic magazine for anyone who wants to be a better leader, coach, facilitator, or simply, to tune up their people skills. It is a complimentary publication, devoted to the next evolution of Quality Thinking.

Publisher: © Key Associates, LLC, 2008 ISSN # 1545-8873

“Civility costs nothing and buys everything.” — Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762)

“Civility is not something that automatically happens. Civil societies come about because people want them to.” — Jimmy Bise, Jr. in his blog

“Life is not so short but that there is always time enough for courtesy.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” — Confucius, c. 500 BC


  • What’s Hot in Leadership
  • Maintaining Yourself as a Leader
  • Frequently Asked Questions from Leaders
  • Educational Opportunities
  • Useful Websites & Newsletters
  • Articles/Publications

What’s Hot in Leadership

  • Modeling courtesy and civility. Telling the truth with grace.
  • Being considerate in conversation, especially in listening completely to the answers.
  • Quelling gossip.
  • Apologizing upon making a mistake.
  • Treating people cordially (that is, from the heart).

Maintaining Yourself as a Leader

The more admirable leaders I have known were adept at conferring respect, making you feel important, and giving consideration to your needs. Being with them was like standing in a pool of warmth. Civility is good for everyone – employers, employees, customers, and the community. It is a relationship skill that is learned, mainly by osmosis, but can also be formally trained. Some of what I can claim came from several rounds of Charm School and “finishing” classes.

The opposite – incivility – is harmful and unprofitable to everyone. Every act of it is destructive and etches division among people.

Be constantly aware of others, and weave respect, tolerance, and consideration into that regard. Civility is a choice.

Frequently Asked Questions

“What does civility mean?”
The word means civilized conduct, a courtesy or politeness, or a polite act or expression. The word “manners,” is derived from the Latin word “hand,” referring to how we handle relationships. Being civil means being constantly aware of others and attending to the community in our everyday interactions.
“How do you encourage or enforce civility?”
At the core of “getting along” are rules – obligations and norms that, when shared, provide the foundation for strong, stable relationships and flourishing communities. Shared norms can create respectful, valued relationships, strengthen communication, and foster interpersonal and team collaboration. These rules of civility provide a sense of order and foster feelings of well-being in positive relationships.
Peggy Post (daughter of Emily Post) in Emily Post’s The Etiquette Advantage in Business: Personal Skills for Professional Success (2005) and Letitia Baldridge in Letitia Baldrige’s New Complete Guide to Executive Manners (1993) cover most conventions of civility, polite behavior and manners. See also Minding Manners.
Or you can form your own group agreement, addressing known offenses, such as interrupting people (interrupting is the verbal equivalent of “shoving.”), discounting people’s ideas and treating them as though they don’t matter, sending crabby e-mails and bullying co-workers.
The newest advance over the Golden Rule is the Platinum Rule: “Do unto others, as they would like to be treated.”
“Is it possible to disagree in a civilized fashion?”
Conflict is not impolite, and is an important part of business. Disagree without being disagreeable. Focus on the issue, not the person. Present positions with supporting data, rationale, interests. Repeat what you’ve heard before making your point. Watch the tone, body language, and words you choose.
The object is not to win, but to coax the best ideas to the surface.
See Mediating Conflict.
“When you make a blunder or behave with incivility, what do you do?”
Simply apologize. Margaret Shepherd (2005) covers this well (pp. 89-90., 119-122). Get the conversation back in motion and stop making things worse. Keep the focus off of yourself and on the other person and their importance to you. Accept the responsibility, and don’t defend yourself or attempt to pass blame. Make restitution if appropriate.
The author gives plenty of phrases for saying I'm sorry, like, “That didn't come out the way I meant it” or “Sorry – my mouth kept talking while my manners went to sleep.” If the error is truly unforgivable, wounding or shows bad character. it may take some time for healing. Let the apology mellow, but don’t forget it.

Exercises and Action Items:

  • Have a conversation about what it means to be civil.
  • Audit your actions:
    • Notice your point of view and truly seek out and listen to perspectives different than yours;
    • Be curious about and interested in others;
    • Choose to speak with someone face-to-face if you think there may be room for miscommunication via e-mail or over the phone;
    • Speak up when others are excluded.
  • Have fun, rude-busters. Here are some etiquette quizzes.


Resources for this seeking more civility: Why Can’t We Have More Civility At Work?.

Training, instruction and documentation of civility Civility in the Workplace Respectful Habits at Work Lead to Greater Productivity.

Key Associates offers leadership training, including a “Charm School” on “Professionalism.” Contact us for customized training packages.

Useful Websites & Newsletters

Institute in government to build civility: Institute for Civility in Government.

Tips on how to achieve civility in business: Strategic Business Tips On How To Achieve Civility In Today’s Workplace.

The unwritten rules of civility: The Unwritten Rules of Civility.

Keyzines on related topics: Lean Does Not Have to Be Mean, Joy in the Workplace, Pride in Work, Ethics, Minding Manners, Principled Leadership, and Employee Engagement.



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