Image: By Prostock-studio

From cliquish colleagues to bullying bosses, work can be uncivil at times. Even in the age of Zoom meetings and virtual calls, interactions can drip with pettiness or be downright uncivil. Whether you need to improve your own behavior or want to better respond to your colleagues, all of us can make simple changes. And what better time than now during International Civility Awareness Month, started by the Association of Image Consultants International (AICI) in 2010 to bridge the connection between civility and the ABC’s of image (Appearance, Behavior, and Communication).  

Here are 6 tips for civility awareness from cultural expert Sharon Schweitzer:

1. Use the Titanium Rule: This takes the Golden Rule – do unto others what you would do to yourself – a step further. The Titanium Rule is to do unto others as they would like you to do. We learn what people would like or their “druthers” by observing, asking questions, watching behavior, reading cues, noticing preferences, and even observing their clothing choices. What makes them feel comfortable, appreciated, seen, or heard? By paying attention to our colleagues’ preferences and needs, we create healthier, more productive workspaces.

2. Understand cultural conditioning: We all have our own cultural conditioning; where and how we were raised, the society and family structure we grew up in, or as third culture kids  –  and it runs deep. You may be culturally conditioned to share a quick, short greeting and get straight to business while a colleague may expect 5-10 minutes of chit-chat prior to in-depth business. They may be offended or feel uncared for when that small talk doesn’t occur. For you, it’s about efficiency; for your colleague it’s about fostering trust and rapport.  We all recognize respect when we see it, don’t we? Small slights can be disrespectful, which can build into resentment over time.

3. Build relationships without depending on technology: Now that we’re slowly making our way back to the live workspace, pay extra care to validate presenters by closing your device or laptop during in-person meetings. Avoid using virtual platforms, video conferencing, and other technology as weapons for bullying or passive-aggressive behavior. For example, avoid ignoring a message because you’re annoyed at someone when you could respond with  “Let me get back to you a bit later today.” Allow yourself to cool down and come up with a kind, appropriate response. Email and text may be convenient and even necessary in these times, but these avenues don’t build relationships as well as direct face-to-face visits, which are crucial to long-term trust building.

4. Cast-off the clique: As humans, it can be natural to gravitate toward others with similar interests, the same sense of humor, or compatible work styles. However, as tempting as it may be, avoid joining an office clique as if you were still in high school. It’s not cool to only hang with the “cool kids.” Be someone that the executive team can rely upon as a role model, especially when it comes to being inclusive with others in the workspace. Use your social skills to expand beyond your usual circle, and take initiative to develop a potential new professional relationship with valuable insight.

 5. Upgrade your personal brand: Remember that your image reflects your self-esteem. Use this to your benefit, even in virtual meeting contexts. Not only will you feel better clean and showered, but also your colleagues will appreciate your fresh, professional image. Save the baggy pants for your days off and that cute skimpy sundress for Saturdays at the pool. Brand yourself as a professional ready for action and opportunity.

6. Check Your Habits: Since we quarantined during the pandemic, we may need to brush up on our social skills in public situations. Maybe we developed some bad habits or became a little lazy, so do a little self-assessment and make adjustments as necessary. For example, remember to smile when you walk by a colleague – Even wearing a mask, people can see the smile in your eyes. In fact, a Chinese study demonstrated that it’s actually the eyes, not the mouth that best demonstrates an authentic smile! Ask to hold the door for others, keep your work area neat, put your phone on silent, and monitor the volume of your conversations relative to others around you.

Civility includes building trust and respect and sharing responsibility. It requires a conscious effort on your behalf because it isn’t automatic. Showing up with civility can be contagious and will create a better working environment for all. Not only that, you will feel good at the end of the day knowing you showed up as your best self.

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a diversity and inclusion consultant, cross-cultural trainer, etiquette expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre, she is an attorney and mediator. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia, won a coveted Kirkus Star, and was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books. She’s a winner of numerous awards, including the British Airways International Trade Award at the Greater Austin Business Awards.

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