Christine Porath’s recent article in the New York Times, No Time To Be Nice At Work, does a beautiful job of not only presenting the negative effects of experiencing incivility but also the positive effects of acting with civility. She gives examples of what civil acts entail, including making appropriate eye contact with colleagues and putting away cell phones during key meetings.
As an incivility researcher myself people often ask me, “Isn’t it a shame that we have to remind people to be nice?” I agree, it is a shame. However, there is much more to “being nice” than most people realize.
George Washington wrote a lovely little book called Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. In it, he suggests things like, “Sleep not when others speak; sit not when others stand; speak not when you should hold your peace; walk not when others stop.” This is good advice that has withstood the test of time. But, I can’t help but notice that a lot of his advice — and advice in general regarding civility — simply suggests to NOT be uncivil.
Is the lack of incivility equal to civility? Shouldn’t civility be more than that?
I took a health course in college, and on the first day of class the instructor said: “Health is more than the absence of illness.” If I don’t get headaches, don’t have a cold, have an acceptable blood pressure, etc., etc., am I healthy?
Someone who is fully and truly healthy oozes well-being from the inside out. She not only passes the physical tests but is also mentally well-balanced, emotionally stable, and spiritually at peace. Health is multi-dimensional and being “in good health” is more than simply being “not sick.”
And so, acting civilly is more than simply not being mean. People who are truly civil ooze kindness from the inside out. They not only pass the behavioral tests (“doesn’t roll eyes at comments” — check; “waits for his turn to talk” — check) but they are also compassionate and magnanimous. They strive to live in harmony with others, despite the constant pressure to compete and defeat.
These are ideals, of course. We cannot always meet them, but we can strive for them.
It’s time to raise the bar for what constitutes “being nice.”
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