Workplace and Civility

As we rush headlong into the spring 2016 semester, we begin a campus-wide focus on promoting values to improve Ivy Tech as a place to work and grow. To start off the year, we will be focusing on, as Jane Janovyak of Change Action Northeast puts it, “civility and the traits of being neighborly and encouraging.” Let’s take a few moments to think of what civility means here at Ivy Tech, and what we can all do to promote this value.

First things first: just what is civility? We seem to recognize right away when someone is being uncivil, but it can be harder to narrow down exactly what embodies this big concept. P. M. Forni, the author of Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules for Considerate Conduct defines civility by four qualities which it satisfies:

-Civility is complex

-Civility is good

-Whatever civility might be, it has to do with courtesy, politeness, and good manners

-Civility belongs in the realm of ethics

When reading more about Forni’s thoughts on civility, it becomes clear that this big idea of civility is not simply a checklist of dos and don’ts, or a handful of behaviors to adopt. The actions and behaviors of people who practice civility are certainly something to discuss and emulate, but the broader sense is that civility is about a constant sense of awareness about your own behavior and how it affects everything around you, both the people you interact with and the environment you inhabit. As Forni puts it, “Being civil means being constantly aware of others and weaving restraint, respect, and considerations into the very fabric of this awareness.” Civility, then, is not merely avoiding things that are considered uncivil, but actively aspiring to be well mannered.

One excellent article that is especially germane to everyone here at Ivy Tech is Alexander Popovics’ “Civility on Community College Campuses: A Shared Responsibility.” This article is available through the Humanities International Complete database, a part of EBSCO, and was originally published in the College Student Journal. One interesting distinction that Popovics makes via author Judy Rootskool is the difference between etiquette and civility. Civility is the underlying respect that informs behaviors like good etiquette. Civility may start to seem like an abstract concept, floating out there in the æther, but Popovics is very practical about the process of improving campus civility. He queries, “So do actions speak louder than words when we speak of civility and respect? The correct answer is that words combined with actions speak the loudest. And we need to speak loudly.” Popovics speaks to the need for a campus-wide initiative to really improve the level of civility in campus interactions.

As much as we focus on promoting civility, the value of civility stands out the most when we are confronted by the lack of it. An article entitled “Tit for Tat? The Spiraling Effect of Incivility in the Workplace” that is available through JSTOR addresses the true dangers of allowing incivility to perpetuate. Though incivility can be as simple as not cleaning up after yourself, neglecting to say thank you, or adopting a brusque tone, it can lead to larger problems such as verbal aggression, violence, and other antisocial behavior. Another article that is available through Proquest shows a link between incivility in the workplace and a negative impact on productivity. From a psychological perspective, Paul Jiménez demonstrates in his article “Workplace Incivility and Its Effects on Value Congruence, Recovery-Stress-State and the Intention to Quit” that a lack of civility can cause employees to look for other work, and keeps employees from uniting around positive values. There are very real consequences to allowing incivility to perpetuate within the workplace, and this is all the more reason to foster civility in its place.

Have I been civil today? Was there a time when my behavior could have been seen as rude? Could I have done more to make everyone around me more comfortable? Civility is not something that can be switched on instantly, but it is something at which we can try to be a little better each day. If you have an interaction that you walk away from with that slight “off” feeling, take a moment to examine what could have gone better. Even if it was the result of someone acting uncivil toward you, was there anything you could have done to improve the situation? Most of all, talk with your coworkers. Improving civility is a collaborative project, and only by engaging with others can we truly make strides toward civility. Hopefully this has been something to keep in mind as we all strive to make Ivy Tech a better place to work, live, and learn. (By Library Clerk, David Winn)

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