Civility — A Matter of Respect

by | Feb 6, 2024 | Personal Growth

“Civility is not about dousing strongly held views. It is about making sure that people are willing to respect other perspectives.”
Jim Leach , American Academic and Former Congressman

Civility is more than manners — being polite, please and thank you, and holding the door for someone else. Manners are subject to societal changes over time. Civility is about dignity and respect, which should be timeless.

Should be timeless.

Civility is a challenge today. From conversations about politics to family events, we have entered a new era where dignity and respect can be the exception. We need a reset and all of us have a stake in more effectively respecting each other.

Respect is about recognizing the humanity around us and finding a way to move forward together — even if we disagree. Letting our voices be heard — not silenced.

We are bound to disagree at work. The workplace can be a sanctuary for strong egos, competition for power, and sometimes putting self before others. The answer is to change the narrative. Conversations not shouting. Dialogue not I win you lose. A commitment to be considerate to each other.

When we give others the chance to participate, we will have differences of opinion. This should be expected and welcomed. Civility at work is not about perfection. Our goal should be a fair process, creating a place where all can thrive.

Where do we learn how to be civil — or uncivil? Are we born with a considerate gene, or is it formed through our experiences? As with so many things in life, the nature v. nurture debate is unclear. Let us focus on experience.
There are many civility messages we pick up through our experiences — both positive and negative:

  • Sports — nice guys finish last.
  • Faith — treat others the way you would want to be treated.
  • Family — saying please and thank you.
  • Work — results not kindness gets rewarded.

Through all these messages we learn one thing — civility is a choice. These choices can be difficult in good times, and particularly difficult when civility is in short supply. Today we seem to have more withdrawals than deposits when it comes to civil behavior.

2023 ABA Survey of Civic Behavior survey focused on the concerns over the growing incivility in the United States.


  • A vast majority, eighty-five percent, said civility today is worse than it was ten years ago.
  • Twenty-nine percent said social media is primarily responsible for eroding civility. Another twenty-four percent blamed the media generally and nineteen percent blamed public officials.
  • Thirty-four percent said family and friends are primarily responsible for improving civility in our society. Another twenty-seven percent said it is primarily the responsibility of public officials and eleven percent said community leaders. Only seven said it is primarily the responsibility of teachers.
  • An overwhelming majority (ninety percent) said parents and family are most responsible for instilling civility in children.
  • Almost everyone said they want government leaders to work toward compromise and not hold their ground until they win. More than three out of four (seventy-nine percent) said they support compromise. Only thirteen percent support government leaders holding their ground.

The findings tell a story — our civility has become more dysfunctional. We need to understand and adapt best practices to restore respect. A great guide to promote civility is Choosing Civility by P.M. Forni.

He offers twenty-five rules for considerable conduct. Let us look at three examples from his book:

Pay Attention

Sometimes we move through life on automatic pilot, missing the people and things around us. I am guilty of this and now realize this is not respectful behavior. We need to get real, to allow reality to enter our consciousness. Setting aside our smartphones. Slowing down to honor the worth of others.

Acknowledge Others

Remembering names, offering compliments, extending hospitality, and recognizing the value of other ideas are examples of respect. The ability to look beyond the job someone has — to see them as a person. Your co-worker has a name, the barista at the coffee shop does as well. Recognizing them and making them visible. Too many of the people in our lives can be invisible and the solution is engaging in relationship building over transactional conversations.

Think the Best

One of the foundations of forgiveness is to think of the best of the person you are seeking to forgive. Having the mindset that the other person is good, honest, and capable of making mistakes. When we see them that way, we can shape them by the credit we offer. At the same time, we must be aware of how we contribute to disrespectful behavior. We can project our dissatisfaction with ourselves onto others.

Read to Lead

Leaders benefit from being active readers, long reads not just social media posts and news feeds. A deep read builds concentration, strengthens your intellectual capacity, and offers wisdom you can share. As you refresh or build your reading habit, diversify your experience – old, new, fiction, non-fiction, audio, hard cover, and e-readers.

My January & February 2024 favorites:

If You Lived Here You Would Be Home By Now by Christopher Ingraham

A delightful story about a family that moved from Washington, DC to Redwood Falls, Minnesota — the community he made famous as the “worst community in the United States” in a story he wrote for the Washington Post. The author had never visited Redwood Falls and once he toured the community and met the local people, he returned home a changed man. His family moved to Minnesota to enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle. A lesson in how our preconceptions can steer us the wrong way, and how new opportunities exist when we take risks and open our minds.

Biting the Hand – Growing Up Asian in Black and White America by Julia Lee

A powerful memoir from an author who was challenged with stereotypes throughout her life — woman, Korean, American, conformist, and rebel. She discusses growing up as an Asian American facing the model minority myth, racism, and white supremacy. The book really helped me better understand the Asian American experience and the imposter syndrome, rage, depression, and systemic racism that continues in our society today.