Back in the day, coal-mine workers would bring along caged canaries down into the dark mine tunnels. If poisonous gases were present in the air, the canaries would perish. Their death would alert the miners that lethal gases were threatening their own lives.
Consider this: somewhere inside you resides your very own, built-in, personal canary. Its job is to let you know when that invisible ‘line’ that separates between civility and incivility, right and wrong, has been crossed.
Here’s how your canary does it:
You might be taking part in a perfectly ordinary conversation, when suddenly someone makes a nasty comment about a colleague who is not present. The comment could be plain old incivility, or it could be serious enough to be considered harassment.
You’re immediately flooded by overwhelming discomfort, accompanied by an inability to respond in the moment. This is your canary’s voice, telling you that something isn’t right. It may combined with a physical sensation, such as a pang in your stomach, or a a sudden and overwhelming sense of discomfort. While you may not be able to pinpoint exactly what is bothering you, you intuitively sense that something about the situation ‘isn’t right’.
Your gut has spoken, and you need to trust it.
Your canary has had hundreds, even thousands of years to develop its acute sensitivity. That gut feeling is the result of generations of your people and your family telling their young how to distinguish right from wrong, proper from improper. When your inner canary gets triggered, you may not always be able to describe exactly what is wrong, but like the ever-reliable coal-mine bird, it warns you that if something is not done, trouble looms.
So here’s the bottom line: Trust Your Canary™. It’s one of the most crucial tools you will ever possess. (So much so, that I have decided to include the phrase ‘Trust Your Canary’ in the title of my forthcoming book, which will equip leaders with real-life strategies for dealing successfully with workplace incivility). Your Canary helps you identify when you must take action to restore respect and civility. And if you are a leader in your organization, it is incumbent upon you to step up and do what’s right, just as all those generations in your family and culture would expect you to do.
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