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Ah, Those Juicy Swear Words

Recently my work took me to several organizations in different industries that had one notable thing in common: the accepted use of swear words at work. Here are some of the reasons people used to explain this habit:

  1. Our work is stressful—it’s a natural outlet.
  2. We act professionally with our clients, but can let loose with one another.
  3. We need to vent.
  4. It’s an expression of my authentic self. Those who don’t like it should get thicker skins.
  5. It’s just how we do things around here—it’s embedded in our workplace culture.
  6. I do it only with people whom I know are okay with it.
  7. After a frustrating interaction with a customer where I was patient and kind, I have to release steam.
  8. I know which lines not to cross. For example, I would never swear at someone.
  9. It’s always been like this in our industry.
  10. Management does it too.

True, organizations vary, customers can be utterly frustrating, and some jobs are especially stressful. And yes, in some industries swearing is practically a rite of passage.

Using swear words can feel really good. They’re juicy, colourful, and provide a satisfying outlet. In fact, research even shows that they help alleviate physical pain—people who used an expletive were able to immerse their hands in ice water twice as long as folks who hadn’t used a profanity. (But wait! Later findings indicate that those who swear on a daily basis show no such improvement in pain tolerance.)

Even the best of us will occasionally blurt out the wrong word at the wrong time. I have fond childhood memories of my father using every morsel of self-control at his disposal to avoid using foul language, and then on occasion despite himself blurting out a colourful curse in his Dutch mother tongue, much to our delight.

But what about the use of ongoing, habitual bad language at work?

Well, at the risk of alienating those of you who work in (and are comfortable with) workplace cultures like those I described above and who might think that my Pollyannaish views will destroy all the fun and authenticity, and at the risk of  boring those of you who work in non-swear environments, I decided to share my view on this matter.

So let’s call a spade a spade: swearing is uncivil. It is considered bad manners in cultures and religions worldwide.

With this in mind, here’s my recommendation: cut it out. Chances are that if your clients (customers, patients, stakeholders, funders, you name it) were to see what really goes on behind closed doors, they would lose faith in your company’s professionalism and integrity, with all that that implies. (Plus, would you feel proud for them to see it in the first place?)

And chances are that if you took a closer look at your organizational values you would see that using profanities contradicts or at least erodes each and every one of them.

To boot, swearing looks bad on the person who is doing it. It doesn’t make you appear smarter, funnier, measured or emotionally intelligent. And you are likely inadvertently offending or engendering fear in some of those around you without even knowing it.

Shaking off a profanities habit is difficult—for individuals, for managers, and for organizations who strive to align the culture with values and superb customer service. It may take time, gumption, and lots of effort, but it’s worth it.

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P.S. Language is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. Check our previous blog posts on the effects of speaking a second language on the job, the ways the language we choose shape our thinking, and the use of sarcasm.

And, as always, don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions or to ask about our services.

Incivility, Creativity, Innovation

If your organization or team relies on innovation or creative problem solving for its success, then you have a vested interest in ensuring that civility levels on your team are high.

Research by Christine Porath and Amir Erez shows that study participants who were exposed to rudeness from a person of authority or from a peer performed more poorly on creativity tasks than did those who were treated in a civil fashion.

For example, they report that participants who had been treated badly and then asked what to do with a brick proposed solid yet uncreative ideas such as “build a house,” “build a wall,” and “build a school.” On the other hand, participants who were dealt with in a civil manner and then asked the same question, came up with much more imaginative ideas for things to do with a good old brick. Their suggestions included “sell the brick on eBay,” “use it as a goalpost for a street soccer game,” “hang it on a museum wall and call it abstract art,” and “decorate it like a pet and give it to a kid as a present.

When people feel that their ideas might be belittled or their input rudely dismissed, they become risk averse. They shift into survival-and-safety mode. In this mode, creative problem solving is inhibited and conformity reigns. After all, why would you take a risk if you anticipate that a colleague or manager will roll their eyes at your idea or make a dismissive comment?

Civility means that everyone’s expertise and input is respected. People feel safe to contribute, each in their own way. When one person dominates a discussion or displays uncivil behaviour toward others, this will affect the group’s ability to think creatively. In fact, research from Carnegie Melon University suggests that the presence of a dominant person on a team can make that group stupid. These researchers compared the collective intelligence of groups where one person dominated the discussion with the groups where the conversational turns were distributed more evenly. (The good news: You can do something about it and if the person happens to be a manager who is persistently abrasive, there are things that your organization can and should do to prevent or address it.) According to Anita Williams-Woolley, the lead researcher on this paper, teams where more people participated in an even way in performing tasks such as visual puzzles, negotiations, brainstorming, games and complex design assignments did better than those who had a dominant member.

Bottom line: the case for civility is clear. The challenge, as always, is how to lead by example and, conversely, how to respond constructively when someone is not as civil or professional as you’d like them to be.

(The above is a modified excerpt from Trust Your Canary: Every Leader’s Guide to Taming Workplace Incivility.)


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Will Civility Destroy All the Fun?

“This is one of those emails that you type to blow off steam and then erase as a ‘boy I better not say this’ moment.” So began a spirited email I received from a man who recently participated in one of my workplace incivility training sessions.

He continued: “I am giving serious thought to writing my own book called The Case for Incivility. In our efforts to achieve civility in the workplace, we will remove common sense. Our halls will run silent. Our conversations will be contrite and disturbingly stale. Far worse, no one will know how to express their dissatisfaction for fear of reprisal because ‘how can anyone argue against civility?’ People will live in fear that what they say or do will make someone complain about them. Is this the civil workplace you envision?”

Wow, what a great email—I love it!

And no, that is not at all the workplace I envision.

I have at times seen people react with visceral fear to the notion of a civil and respectful workplace. They are concerned about the death of fun, spontaneity and camaraderie. They are worried that political correctness will sanitize the workplace and bring all these to their fatal demise, leaving behind robotic (and boring) semi-human clones. Or that minor mortal mistakes will turn everyone into what a workshop participant once called “a walking HR bomb.”

You may have experienced this reaction yourself, even if only for a fleeting moment, perhaps accompanied by a longing for the good old times. I, too, had wondered about this matter on occasion. But with time, the countless stories people shared with me about being impacted negatively by incivility or harassment changed me. As I delved deeper into the field of civility and respect, I became a convert.

So, here’s my take.

Civility does not and should not mean that corridors fall silent. On the contrary: it means that there should be more laughter, solidarity, and participation by all (rather than just, say, those who possess more social power or are crusty and sarcastic such that their colleagues are afraid to ever say anything that could spark their wrath). Surely we can have a fun and lively workplace that is still civil. Humour does not have to be at someone’s expense, friendships can thrive without excluding others, dissenting opinions can be shared without belittling or dismissing, and frustration can be expressed constructively without resorting to eye rolling.

The civility and respect message is more about dos and less about don’ts: treat others as you would like to be treated. Play nice in the sandbox. Show regard. Be considerate in words and actions. Be open to feedback. Explore your blind spots to learn how you can do better. Apologize when you screw up. Develop your Teflon shield. Have a generous spirit and give people the benefit of the doubt. And above all, strive to be a Real Human Being—someone who steps up, lifts up, speaks up and yes, shuts up too.

The civil workplace is one that maintains a Healthy Body state, as opposed to one with a persistent allergy, chronic infection or acute disease. It is a place not entirely void of incivility—after all, how could it be if it is filled with living human beings who, like you and me, inadvertently say or do the wrong thing from time to time? Rather, it is a space where everyone does their best to be respectful, take responsibility for their mishaps and is open to feedback. It is an environment where people feel comfortable calling out others on their behaviour (constructively!), where sticky situations are dealt with and people move on. It is an environment in which everyone strives to be a decent and conscientious corporate citizen.

The case for a civil workplace is strong and compelling. True, we have to be careful that the pendulum does not move into the realm of paralyzing political correctness. But from what I see, we have a far way to go before there’s a real danger of that happening. For now, let’s focus on kicking civility and inclusion up a notch, so that everyone in our work environment can perform at their best because they feel safe and respected.

 

As always, contact me anytime to explore whether and how we can help your team or organization.

 

 

 

 

Okay, So You’ve Messed Up

Recently I found myself in a bit of hot water. My well-intentioned attempt to keep a fast-moving situation from getting out of hand was perceived as excessively curt, even crossing the line into rudeness-land.

I learned about this gap between my good intentions and the negative perceptions after the fact through honest feedback I received from someone who was present when it happened.

Learning that you may not have been as gracious as you’d like to be and in fact may have caused some upset is not a pleasant experience, and all the more so for someone who speaks and writes about incivility.

I did my best to remedy that situation, which got me thinking more broadly about strategies to implement when we’ve messed up and need to do some repair work. Here goes:

  1. If you suspect that you missed the mark, seek feedback. Sometimes you get an inkling that something didn’t come across well—a subtle physical reaction from the other person, a facial expression, a silence, or even just an intuitive perception that something isn’t right. If you sense this, chances are that something indeed went awry. Seek feedback on the spot or shortly thereafter. In my case, I had a feeling right in the moment that something was “off,” but it was fleeting and I left it behind me as we all moved on to the next thing. I should have instead followed up shortly thereafter with something like, “I sense that something wasn’t quite right in the way I responded—did you have a similar perception?”
  2. Demonstrate openness and gratitude. When someone is gracious enough (or sufficiently brave) to share with you that you were uncivil or abrasive, listen carefully to what they have to say and show appreciation for their effort. I was fortunate that the person giving me the feedback was candid yet gentle, but that is not always the case. The person might provide feedback in an emotionally charged way that will trigger your defensiveness. However, this does not detract from the validity of the feedback or the need for you to demonstrate openness and appreciation. We all have blind spots so here’s our opportunity to do better.
  3. Make it a learning conversation. Ask clarifying questions to understand their perspective on what exactly went wrong. Knowing the details will help you recognize what you need to change next time. Furthermore, your questions demonstrate much-needed genuine concern for their experience.
  4. Discuss ways to fix it. What remedy will make the person feel that things have been resolved to their satisfaction? Inquire what they would like to see happen and offer suggestions of your own. For example, if the issue is that you made a disparaging comment to someone in front of others, a reasonable remedy might be that you circle back to those who were present and clear the person’s reputation with them too.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s easy to feel badly and spiral into the dark abyss of self-blame when you realize that your actions caused distress to others. Feelings of shame and regret make us human, and it’s okay to dive there for a few minutes (as I indeed did). But then get up, pull yourself together, and figure out how to fix the mess you’ve created. A good apology that clearly outlines where you erred and the impact it has had, accompanied by a sincere and specific commitment to do better, will go a long way.

None of us is perfect. But there are two pieces of good news that are not to be sneezed at: First, we can strive to do better each and every day. Second, taking action to genuinely listen, acknowledge, and correct usually has a positive impact on the other person—and on the relationship itself.

Good luck on the journey!

As always, contact me anytime.

What Does a “Constructive” Response Actually Mean?

For several years I’ve been doing my own informal qualitative research: I usually start training sessions by describing a workplace incivility scenario, the likes of which most everyone in the room would have encountered. I then say, “Raise your hand if you know how you would constructively deal with this situation.” On average, less than 5 per cent of folks raise their hand.

It’s the word constructively that causes them to pause.

Any one of us can recall examples where our response was, well, less than productive. Sometimes things got worse. We may have been left with scars, perhaps reluctant, anxious or fearful to deal with things next time around.

So what does it actually mean to respond constructively when you experience incivility (or, for that matter, any unwelcome behaviour)? Here are key ingredients that go into the mix:

  1. Set a “no scorched earth” goal. Your objective should be to build the relationship rather than damage it. Shape your response accordingly.
  2. Think “addressing,” not “confronting.” The way that we think about a situation has a profound effect on how we approach it. When you think that you need to confront someone, your mind immediately categorizes the situation as adversarial and your whole being goes on battle alert. Rather than telling yourself that you need to confront the person, I recommend thinking in neutral terms such as addressingdiscussing, dialoguingexploring or dealing with.
  3. Express your reaction in a measured way. Tone it down. Conveying your emotions in all their colourful potency will overwhelm the other person and reduce rational thinking. The same is true if you resort to sarcasm.
  4. Choose your words prudently. Words can inadvertently turn a situation from constructive to destructive in a big hurry. The interaction will become charged and you won’t even know why. One word to avoid is but (“I know you may have intended well, BUT…”) as it triggers defensiveness.
  5. Control your body language. You can use the best-selected words, however non-verbal communication that is laden with strong feelings (anger, resentment, hurt, retaliation) will trump all else.
  6. Only the facts, please. Sharing the labels or conclusions you’ve attached to the other person’s motives or personality (“You have zero respect for anyone else’s opinion”) will escalate the situation. Stick to the facts: What would a video camera capture, without the help of a narrator? What would a fly on the wall have seen or heard when the problem occurred?

The new year has just begun. What do you plan to do differently this year to avoid destructive confrontations and benefit from constructive explorations?

________

On a different note: I am thrilled to share the following discount opportunity: On February 16 I will be presenting a webinar on workplace incivility for the Conference Board of Canada (Trust Your Inner Canary: Taming Workplace Incivility.) The Conference Board has graciously extended a 50% discount off the $199 webinar fee to people in my network. If you or a colleague are interested in attending, just let me know and we will provide you with the details ASAP.

As always, contact me anytime.

Three Good Wishes

iStock Snowman and Kids

In January of this year I offered my thoughts on three things to do in 2015. Now, as the world struggles to find answers to exceedingly difficult challenges, please allow me to wholeheartedly extend to you three personal wishes:

  1. A wish for choice. We have the capacity to be good, kind, considerate and thoughtful. We also possess an impulse to be judgmental, unkind, dismissive, and much worse. It’s up to us to make the choice—sometimes dozens of times a day.

    I wish you a year of making good choices.

  1. A wish for effective coating. It’s so easy to take a victim stance—“she did this to me,” “he did it on purpose”—or to get offended because of something that someone said or did. It’s the old Velcro reaction vs. Teflon coating dilemma.

    I wish you a year of non-victimhood, a year of celebrating your generous spirit and extending the benefit of the doubt.

  1. A wish for questioning. In the secret labyrinths of our minds, we all to often have a need to be right, to have unlimited monopoly on who should do or say what, when, and exactly how. But this need to be right robs us of much of the richness that comes with truly observing, listening, paying attention, and being open.

    I wish us all a year of living in the question. A year of humility, curiosity, and an openness to being utterly in the wrong.

Happy holidays and a fantabulous new year!

 

As always, contact me anytime, this year—or next.

 

Ten Mental Barriers to Stepping Up

If you have refrained from taking action to deal with incivility in your workplace, you must have had good reasons to do so. Or at least you persuaded yourself that you did. You spared yourself the effort, thought and courage that would be required to step up to the plate.

We will have a chance to talk about issues similar to this on our Live on Air Q&A Google Hangout on October 22nd. I really hope you will join us for this free event to mark the publication of  Trust Your Canary: Every Leader’s Guide to Taming Workplace Incivility (see details below).

Meanwhile, here are the top ten common thoughts that might be preventing you from taking meaningful action. Which of these apply to you?

  1. The behaviour in question isn’t really that serious.
  2. The person (or persons) behaving uncivilly is too powerful for me to take on.
  3. As long as the customer doesn’t see this, no real damage is done.
  4. These problems are too engrained in the culture.
  5. I can’t change this alone.
  6. Things will sort themselves out.
  7. It has always been like this.
  8. This environment is significantly more respectful than my previous workplace. I should be content with what I have.
  9. If I do something, who knows what else might happen.
  10. Doing something about it will demand too much time and effort.

Truth is, in some instances there are indeed reality-based reasons to avoid action. For example, when your own boss is uncivil or senior management sets a bad example. Or when there is no commitment at the top to maintaining a civil organizational culture. But much of the time, the obstacles lie within your own mind and heart.

It’s only human to experience the above Top Ten thoughts and the anxieties, fears and sense of immobilization that they trigger. Avoidance is natural and understandable. But here’s the problem: if you and everyone around you succumb to these thoughts, how will things ever change?

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Sharone.graphic.3

Join Me for a Google Hangout: Let’s Talk Civility! 

I am thoroughly delighted to invite you to join our first-ever Live Google Hangout On Air to celebrate the launch of my book, Trust Your Canary: Every Leader’s Guide to Taming Workplace Incivility. I promised a virtual book launch, and here we are!

In this live 30 minute event you will have an opportunity to ask your questions and raise relevant issues. For my part, I will do my best to answer intelligently. To register, click here, or anywhere on the invitation below.

New to Google Hangout? No worries, check out the simple tips right below the invitation.

Here are some things you can do to maximize your experience:

  1. Join forces: Invite your colleagues and friends to attend too—there’s room for everyone. Huddle in the same room or join from different continents. Great changes can happen when more people are in the circle.
  2. Get your questions answered: Send questions in advance—we only have 30 minutes, so make sure you get your issues in. Email your questions directly to me at Sharone@sharonebardavid.com
  3. Catch up later: If you can’t make the live event, make sure to listen to the recording later (we’ll add a link on our News Page).

 

 

Your tips for joining:

1) Already a Google Plus or Gmail member? Simply RSVP here. The event will be added to your calendar and to your event list automatically. When the Hangout goes live, click and join!

2) Not on GooglePlus or Gmail? Sign up for a free Gmail account and click the RSVP link above to join the event.

3) Don’t want to sign up for GooglePlus or Gmail? No problem, use the YouTube link to watch the hangout live. You’ll be able to watch, but unable to participate in the live Q&A, comment or RSVP.

4) Have a question you want answered during the Live Q&A? Send your questions to: sharone@sharonebardavid.com.

5) Still need tech assistance to help RSVP? Send your tech questions to: info@sharonebardavid.com

___________

“Sharone’s book is phenomenal! I am reading every word and almost done–her writing is wise, accessible and well informed. Look forward to the Google Hangout celebration of “trust Your Canary”. ”

— Ellen Cobb, Author of Workplace Bullying, Violence, Harassment, Discrimination and Stress: International Laws, Developments and Resources

___________

“Recently I purchased copies of Trust Your Canary: Every Leader’s Guide to Taming Workplace Incivility — for the entire Leadership team of our division. I found the book to be the vade-mecum of workplace incivility! Incivility doesn’t have its place in the workplace, but Trust Your Canary certainly does!”

— Mireille St.Amour, Manager, Credit Services Department, Canadian Tire Bank

Top 7 Excuses We Use to Justify Our Gossip Habits

Let’s talk about gossip. The critical, cutting kind. The type of talk that, if heard by the colleague or manager about whom it is said, would cause him or her to feel upset, hurt, or betrayed.

Here are the top seven ways that people justify this type of gossiping (and shoot themselves in the foot while doing so). Which ones apply to you?

  1. It’s fun! There’s nothing like a bit of gossip to introduce spice, relieve stress and pass the time.
  2. It helps me process things. When I’m frustrated with a colleague or manager it really helps to talk things over with someone I can trust, a confidant. It makes me understand the problem better and get over it. And because I trust this person, I can truly allow myself to let it all out (in other words, be nasty with no restraints).
  3. They deserve it. The person that I’m gossiping about practically asked for it—their behaviour justifies me talking/complaining/gossiping about them.
  4. It’s easier to talk about it than to confront the person. The person who triggered my frustration is so difficult (or defensive, or aggressive) that it is simpler and more constructive to talk about them than to address the matter directly. Talking to that problematic person is futile and might even backfire.
  5. I need confirmation from someone objective. I need to hear that I am correct in my perception and justified in my upset.
  6. I (or we as a group) simply need to vent. I need to release steam or else I will explode. Venting is a healthy, normal and justified activity.
  7. Gossiping helps me to (unconsciously) gain dominance, control, or a strategic advantage. By pulling others into my discussion about the person’s shortcomings I am creating a mini community from which the person that we are talking about is excluded. I gain a position of importance within this group and an advantage over the person who is the subject of the discussion.

Alright, that’s it for the justifications. Are you ready for a strong opinion?

Here’s my take: we can conjure up dozens of justifications for our behaviour but none will change the simple fact that gossip is hurtful to the other person and erodes our own integrity. And dare I also mention that it creates an unpleasant, even poisonous, and certainly less productive work environment.

*   *   *

News from the TYC book front:

Trust Your Canary: Every Leader’s Guide to Taming Workplace Incivility is starting to make its way nicely in the world. Heartfelt thanks to those of you who have purchased it. I was practically in tears last week when, during a session for managers that I facilitated, folks showed up with their copy of the book looking well worn and filled with Post-it notes and other markings.

To celebrate the book’s launch, you’ll all be invited to a Google Hangout sometime this fall. Stay tuned!

A Book Is Born!

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 1.41.02 PMThrilled. Excited. Curious. These are some of my feelings as my new book has become a reality. A year ago, many of you weighed in enthusiastically to help choose the best title (thanks again). And now it is here! It has arrived!

The release of Trust Your Canary: Every Leader’s Guide to Taming Workplace Incivility is the pinnacle of an already big year for us at Bar-David Consulting. It is the ultimate piece that rounds off the Respect-on-the-Go toolkits and the Trust Your Canary Team Civility Booster program that we launched in March of this year.

With these three resources I attempt to address a fundamental need in today’s organizations: we can use more civility. It’s good for people and it’s good for business.

In the past two weeks alone, there have been a number of important radio and print pieces written about workplace incivility, including a superb piece in the New York Times on its impact on key performance indicators penned by a lead researcher whose work I rely on in our workshops and in the book. I’m delighted and gratified to say the civility cause is gaining momentum!

So here’s the skinny about the book: with wonderful endorsements from global experts, it offers leaders cutting-edge information on the nature and impact of workplace incivility and a plethora of in-depth strategies, right down to the granular level of what to say (and how) and traps to avoid. As is my style, the book is written in a straight-up, challenging, and compassionate tone.

My vision is that people will use this book and the civility tools independent of external experts (myself included). I imagine myself in joyful retirement, sipping on a frothy cappuccino overlooking the rolling hills of Tuscany while the various resources I’ve created continue to change lives. Each component has different purposes — use them as stand-alones or to complement each other for even more powerful results:

  • The Respect-on-the-Go toolkits bring to you a set of vibrant cards jam-packed with more than 200 practical tips and cues for personal and organizational use.
  • The Trust Your Canary Team Civility Booster offers an intensive program for boosting civility on specific teams via thoughtful discussions assisted by videos.
  • And the book — well, you already know.

Trust Your Canary: Every Leader’s Guide to Taming Workplace Incivility is available on amazon.ca, amazon.com, and on the chapters.indigo site. An ebook version will be out shortly. To order five or more copies, please contact me directly and we will arrange a discount and quicker shipping.

I would love your support in helping build the book’s credibility: please do write a review on Amazon. Even if you have not read the book yet, a comment on Amazon regarding the value of Bar-David Consulting’s work will be hugely helpful, too. I will be eternally grateful.

Finally, stay tuned! In the early fall, you will all be invited to a virtual book launch. We’ll chat live on Google Hangouts about civility, the workplace, the book, and who knows what else.

And now, I’m happy to share a short excerpt below, from the strategy called Mind the Broken Windows. Enjoy, and “see” you again in late August!

 

Personal Barriers to Minding the Window

If you have refrained from taking action to deal with incivility, there must have been good reasons to do so. Or at least, you persuaded yourself that the reasons were sufficiently strong to keep you from taking meaningful action; you spared yourself the effort, thought and courage that would be required. Truth is, sometimes there are indeed viable reasons to avoid action. And when your own boss is uncivil or senior management sets a bad example, or there’s no David Morrison–esque commitment to minding windows at the top, the task is that much harder. But much of the time, the obstacles to minding the windows lie within your own mind and heart.

Following are some common thoughts and ideas that prevent leaders like you from seeing that the window is broken in the first place, or from recognizing that it’s your job to fix it. Earlier we looked at leaders’ omissions and mistakes from a broader perspective, and here I invite you to take a closer look and begin considering: Which of the thoughts described below have you personally experienced? How did these thoughts affect your decisions about taking action (or not) to mind the civility windows?

■  This behavior isn’t really that serious.

■  As long as the customer doesn’t see this, no real damage is done.

■  These problems are engrained in the culture—they can’t be changed.

■  I can’t change this alone.

■  Things will sort themselves out.

■  It’s always been like this.

■  This environment is significantly more respectful than my previous workplace.

■  If I begin intervening, who knows what else I will discover?

■  Doing something about it will demand too much of my already 
overloaded time.

■  The person (or persons) behaving uncivilly is (are) too powerful for me to take on.

If you are to adopt a Mind the Windows approach to incivility, exploring your own beliefs and reasons for denying that the behavior exists or that you need to deal with it is a great place to start changing yourself—and the environment upon which you have influence.

 

Contact me directly if you’d like to step up to the plate and get your own copies of the book or civility programs to help do so, anytime. 

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