What happened to civil discourse?

What happened to civility? Where is the compassion in pursuit of truth? Constructive and honest debate are healthy and necessary, but personal attacks and incivility erode our humanity. – Jannell MacAulay, PhD

Incivility can ruin the trust and impede the proper functioning of a team. Similar to the effect of condescension, spite, and simmering animosity have in a relationship, derision and cutting words erode the bond that holds a team together.

When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of return to kindness or decency. – Samuel Johnson

That is one of the reasons it is so important to root out problem employees and make sure that they are properly counseled and, if as appropriate, managed out of the organization. Civility, politeness, acting toward one another in such a way that would engender trust and belonging and feelings of empathy and compassion should always be striving for.

I imagine that you have been in a situation, especially a group setting, where someone uses derisive and demeaning language to describe another person. That fracturing of the social contract encourages you to lose respect for the person being talked about and the person talking. If you’re in a group setting with another leader and that leader does not speak up to stop the negative talk, chances are good that you will not think so highly of that leader in the future either.

Team cohesiveness is a key aspect to performing in group settings. Mannerly behavior may not be involved in our hive fast-paced high-tech world, but it is part of the core social fabric that defines good human behavior and allows us to interact with one another in a respectful way that supports our shared humanity. Social media and 24/7 news networks spread hatred and incivility lightning fast. It is difficult to stand firm as a respectful and polite person with those influences so near at hand.

Social media and talking heads have the effect of reducing nuanced concepts and discussions to the most basic (and typically wrong) level. When you are given only a few hundred characters to describe a scenario, much less to debate a weighty ethical topic, you cannot do it justice. When we use ‘react’ buttons or write quick remarks in a comment section on social media, we are not able to have a coherent, synchronous conversation about a given topic. We tend to use inflammatory language and simplify issues.

Logical fallacies are all too common on social media and on talking head ‘news’ programs. A false dilemma or false dichotomy is a good example. You’ve probably heard the “you’re either with us or against us” argument often. This is the sort of gross oversimplification that Brené Brown argues against in Braving the Wilderness. When your position on a given issue must be either A. or B., you are not given any other options. That is intellectually disingenuous at best and intentionally unethical and manipulative at worst. You can support our troops and still disagree with drone strikes in sovereign nations, for example. Try discussing hot-button issues on a platform like Facebook or Twitter and see what happens in the comment section. I guarantee it will not be a civil or pleasant experience.

It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity. – Albert Einstein

From a practical perspective, you, as the leader, must inculcate an atmosphere of respect, stability, and politeness with the underlying characteristics of care and compassion in your leadership team and your subordinates. This will allow for a more cohesive and high functioning team; one that is innovative and generates ideas absent an atmosphere of judgment or casual derision.

Professionalism and leadership demand that we follow Patrick Swayze’s advice in the 80s classic, Roadhouse, “Be polite.”

How does your organization handle email communications?




It is not uncommon to have major mishaps and misunderstandings based on poorly thought-out emails. Email is the workhorse of most company communication and, despite the volume of emails you send and receive on a daily basis, you should never lose respect for the power of that communication platform.

An email is composed of the written word. Experts suggest that up to 85% of our perception of communication is through non-verbal cues. These cues are absent in email communication.

While it is not practical to take an excessive amount of time to compose each and every email you send, the following are guidelines that will assist in sending cogent and coherent messages; saving your company time and increasing communication efficiency.

*  Compose a pertinent, brief subject that conveys the content of your message
* Use *confidential or [Action Required], as necessary. This allows the recipient to determine more about the contents of your message without having to read the body text.
*  Keep ‘To’ recipients to a small number and only those that need to take action on the subject
*  Keep ‘Cc’ recipients to only those that really need to be informed.  Don’t copy upper management if they have no action to take or don’t need the update.
*  If the subject is controversial, contains bad news or is addressing a performance issue, don’t send it.  This is better addressed in a conversation so that complete and meaningful communication can take place.  Face to face conversations about sensitive topics minimize misunderstandings, misdirected information, and opportunities to mistakenly include uninvolved parties.
*  If responding to an inflammatory email, type your response and read it multiple times, go to bed and read it again in the morning and then send. Perhaps it doesn’t merit a response or the response would be better addressed in-person.
*  Use appropriate salutations to set the tone. First names are common, but when addressing C-Suite-level individuals, it is not typically advisable.
*  Keep emails short and to the point (Brevity breeds clarity) I prefer to use bullets when listing events, actions, and key points.
*  If you expect a response, let the reader know that. Also include information regarding deadlines.
* Proofread! Reread the email at least once to make sure all spelling and grammatical elements are correct.
* Do not Assume Privacy. Ever. Email can be forwarded and reread by others.  Do not write in an email what you don’t want your mother or your CEO to see.
* Always respond promptly. Nothing is more annoying than someone who takes a week to get back to you. Even if you cannot respond fully right away, let the sender know that.
* Email signatures should be standard in the company. You will typically want to see the name, title, location, and basic contact information included in a professional signature block. Avoid cute sayings, links to surveys, and flowery pictures.


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