What happened to civility? When did we lose it? Did we ever have it? How can we find it and successfully implement civility for the common good? There is no denying we live in a divided country. Strong opinions, harsh words, misrepresentation of facts, and outright lies have become commonplace. Civil discourse, discussion, and debate have been replaced with name-calling, hostile rhetoric, and at times acts of violence.
The lack of civility is not limited to the political area. We see it every day in business. People are disengaged at work. Per a recent Gallup report, two-thirds of American workers are unhappy with their jobs and 15 percent actually hate their work. If my math is correct, that means 81 percent of workers do not enjoy their job and are not engaged toward working toward a common ground. This is a staggering number and brings with it serious problems such as declining productivity, revenue, and profit margins suffer, employee turnover increases, corporate sabotage rises, legal actions by customers, and employees. Negative undergrounds, and worse yet, battlegrounds, develop and gain traction.
Companies that suffer from departmental rivalries (lack of civility or common ground) are 5.82 times more likely to have systemic problems with honesty, according to a 15-year study conducted by consultant Ron Carucci. And widespread issues with honesty can pave the way to the kind of scandals that rocked Wells Fargo and Volkswagen in recent years.
While things will never be perfect, an improvement in civility can give companies a competitive edge.
How do we get back to civility? While fear is the enemy of civility, education is the key to overcoming fear. The more we know about people, cultures, backgrounds, religions, races, etc., the better the chances for civil discourse.
Let’s break this down to the most basic component. Civility requires people to find a common ground to discuss, review, and make decisions that affect the overall good of an organization. People are women and men. Each sees the world through a very different lens. There are dozens of books that attempt to explain how men and women address nearly every imaginable issue. Let’s step back and look at some of the issues and challenges that have faced men and women over time.
Women’s issues go back to the cavemen days. The need to survive made the physically strongest individual the undisputed leader. Women were cast into subservient or secondary roles. As we left the caves there were more challenges to overcome:
- The right to own property
- The right to vote
- Women’s roles, no working outside of the house
- Entering the workforce challenges
- Entering college
- Wage Gap
- Glass ceiling
Men’s issues can also be traced to the cavemen days. Since men are physically stronger, they held the position of power and privilege. Those aspects of perceived power and privilege continued for centuries which reinforced aggression, emotionlessness, and other negative qualities, theorized as a component of masculine ideology, particularly in the United States. It is often validated by the statement “boys will be boys.” Adherence to traditional male gender roles restricts the kinds of emotions allowable for boys and men to express, including social expectations that men seek to be dominant (the “alpha male”) and limit their emotional range primarily to expressions of anger. Men continued to hold the positions of power and privilege.
As we entered the 1960s and 70s, things radically changed. More women started entering the workforce often out of economic necessity. They were putting off marriage. Women had more choices. More and more women graduated from college and were capable of supporting themselves. They didn’t need a man to be the sole provider and protector. In many cases, they didn’t need a man at all.
Women were no longer willing to hold secondary roles. They were starting businesses; being elected to public office. After the 2018 election, 127 women serve in congress. 25 women (25%) serve in the U.S. Senate, and 102 women (23.4%) serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2020 women outnumber men in college, in grad schools, and in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs.
In the workplace, men and women issues only touch the surface. Now added to gender are the complexities of race, religion, sexual orientation, and more recently political persuasion issues. Cliques, splinter groups, and alliances start to form between those who feel left out or shut out versus those perceived to have the privileged and power. In this underground, these groups prepare for battle. One of the battles is to turn to the courts or legislation.
Each group feels they are disadvantaged or do not hold the position of privilege or power. Unfortunately, life and the world are not fair. Those who have don’t want to give it up. They feel they have earned their power and position of privilege. While the have nots claim discrimination and seek the law to “help level the playing field.” Strong social movements have led to laws whose intent was to create a “more equitable” environment going back to the issue of slavery. They look to legislation for relief.
Since 1963, no less than 11 laws passed whose intent is to level the playing field against discrimination. While legislation does provide some relief, it is not a panacea. Rather, legislation provides guidelines. These guidelines produced countless regulations and mandatory compliance training. So, on top of everything else business leaders have to do—we now have to develop and address compliance training.
On or about 1969, in an effort to address the successful implementation of the laws, new regulations were mandated and we started the era of “mandatory compliance training.” Compliance training was often met with disdain. “Another compliance class! We don’t have time for this! These are a complete and total waste of time!”
So how successful has 56 years of mandatory compliance training been in bringing civility to the workplace? While there has been some progress, the underground is still alive and well. For example, Tarana Burke started a movement she called “Me Too” in 2006. It exploded into #METOO in 2017. Powerful, privileged people, such as Harvey Weinstein, Senator Al Franken, and TV personality Charlie Rose, lost their jobs, careers, and fortunes.
There is a renewed effort to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). We have daily political scandals and investigations. Old wounds are reopened and battle lines are drawn again.
Opportunities for Growth
While the majority of victims from the #METOO movement have been men, Meryl Streep’s character in the movie The Devil Wears Prada, shows us uncivil behavior is not just a masculine trait. On the positive note, the #METOO movement gives us the opportunity to discuss, explore, and address other toxins that harm both people and businesses such as:
- Closed minds
- Friction between employee age groups
That is how we got to where we are today. Now what? How do we return to civility? We ask the hard questions.
- How do we improve the workplace?
- What do you enjoy about working here?
- What goals are you trying to accomplish?
- Finding a common ground – a point of agreement to begin
- Agreement on the common ground creates a basis for progress
The first step is to understand the dynamics at play. My associate, Marc Porter Ph.D., research contents that every organization has three distinct environments.
- Common ground