Four Core Qualities of Civility

In working relationships, four core qualities of civility make a great impact on how well people integrate their talents, knowledge, and energy into a dynamics that produces more than the sum of its parts.

  • Awareness. The first step is simply being aware of other people. That quality implies more than it appears on the surface. In a rushed work world, people often put their heads down and purposefully ignore others around them. There are contexts where such behavior makes sense, such as the subway commute, but it clashes with a supportive workplace culture.
  • Attention. Paying attention to others goes an additional step beyond awareness. Attention requires more focus on the individual person, recognizing their unique qualities and potential for your work together. Attention has a greater impact when you let the other person know that you’re paying attention. People enjoy the right kind of attention in the right circumstances.
  • Accommodation. A broader quality of civility is accommodation, which means fitting another person’s perspective into your shared work. It opens the possibility that you don’t have everything worked out on your own, and that a fresh perspective other than your own can be something of value. Accommodation requires a generosity of spirit that is essential to developing a effective workplace culture.
  • Appreciation. The fourth and perhaps most consequential quality of civility is appreciation. In showing appreciation, you are explicitly acknowledging the value that others bring to your shared activities. Being thankful is good for your own peace of mind, and receiving appreciation confirms others in their sense of participation in the group’s culture.

When going to the office kitchen for coffee from the communal pot, all four qualities of civility can come into play. It’s important to be aware of others, not simply those who are in the space at the moment, but those colleagues who will be seeking this shared resource later in the day.

It’s important to attend to others in the coffee room as people often combine a social agenda with their coffee breaks. Grabbing your coffee and ignoring your colleagues is unlikely to go over well.

Accommodating others develops the right frame of mind for the coffee room. People vary in their preferences for tea, coffee, and hot chocolate. There are issues of flavors, milk, cream, and sugar. Critiquing the preferences of others is unlikely to build a stronger working relationship.

Finally, when dealing with a shared resource, it’s important to show appreciation by thanking whoever made the coffee, contributing to the shared financing, and leaving the coffee area in good order for your colleagues.

If sharing coffee has this many dimensions to it, just think how important civility can be when it concerns your core business?

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