“A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.” – Cicero
Are you saying “thank you” enough these days? Expressing appreciation to others can have a wonderful ripple effect. As others feel acknowledged and respected, it’s often paid forward to the next person they encounter, and so on. Saying “thanks” reveals we see ourselves as part of a larger community, where we recognize we’re all interconnected—and strengthening that web can make us all better for it.
What follows are five instances in our everyday lives we should be saying “thank you” and may not be. Give yourself a point for each one you do.
When you walk through a door being held open for you
Many people fail to even notice that they’re walking through an open door. They’re engaged in a conversation or their own thoughts or I-don’t-know-what. The door-holder, though, is making a real effort to be helpful to others and deserves a “thank you” each and every time. Keep in mind they may have become trapped by a sudden swarm of people behind the mom with a stroller, but they didn’t let the door slam shut in front of you. They probably deserve an award.
When the car next to you lets you merge in front
We’ve all witnessed one specific gesture being used on the roadways, but there’s a better one we need to employ. It’s the universal handwave in front of the rearview mirror letting the driver behind you know that you appreciate them slowing down and giving you space. Don’t wave too soon, though. Make sure you’re exactly in front of them so your wiggling fingers are seen. I think we’d have less road-rage if we used more of the five-finger wave and less of the single-finger.
When the busboy refills water/clears plates/brings you anything
This holds true for anyone assisting your primary server (who also deserves a periodic “thank you”). These unsung heroes usually make less than the main servers, so saying “thank you” is especially appreciated. No one expects you to interrupt your conversation each and every time they appear. Just an occasional acknowledgement is called for.
When the grocery bagger is finished
The cashier deserves a “thank you”, of course, but the hardworking bagger has earned one, too. Be sure you make eye contact and thank them for taking good care of your eggs/cupcakes/bananas. For some, this is their first foray into the workforce. For others, this will be the only job they ever have. A little encouragement will mean a lot.
When the flight attendant hands you a drink
Here’s another stressful yet often thankless job. Yes, the engines are loud, your ears are plugged, your seatmate is hugging your armrest, and the person in front of you is fully-reclined, but make sure you at least mouth “thank you” to the attendant after they’ve served you. Placing our order for ginger ale comes easily; our thank you afterward doesn’t always.
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” – Voltaire
Incivility is all around us. Shrill debates, finger-pointing, and bullying have filled our workplaces, social media streams, schools, and families.
What we all need is a big dose of RESTRAINT. P.M. Forni, author of Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct has written beautifully about this very idea:
“I would say insufficient training in restraint is identified as a cause of rising incivility. As a society, we have been very good in instilling self-respect in our children but not as good in instilling self-restraint. When we teach self-esteem but forget to train our children in self-restraint, we create children who are self-centered, who believe the world revolves around them, who are so self-invested that they have little moral energy left for their fellow human beings. They are trapped in a cage of narcissism that we have built for them. Restraint is an essential component of civility. We are civil when we are aware of others and we weave restraint, respect and consideration into the very fabric of this awareness.”
How can we show restraint in the workplace? Here are 6 ideas to consider:
Use a filter when speaking. Every thought in your head doesn’t need to be shared. Words leave a “wake”, much like a boat gliding across a lake. What is the “wake” you want to leave when you leave the room? Before you speak, try asking yourself: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?
Develop the ability to adapt your communication style. Everyone needs a toolbox of styles so they can flex in the moment and communicate in ways that will be understood on the receiving end. Your communication style shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all, because it doesn’t.
Ask for input before responding. As Simon Sinek teaches: Be the last to speak. Screen out distractions. Ask clarifying and expanding questions to verify your understanding and draw out further information. The discussion will be better because of it.
Respect boundaries. Don’t assume you’re on a first-name-basis with everyone you meet. Don’t interrupt. Don’t help yourself to other people’s stuff, food, ideas. Without boundaries, we have chaos.
Recognize that people have feelings. Demonstrating empathy and compassion is not a show of weakness; it’s a sign of strong leadership. Put yourself in others’ shoes and think about what could be going on their lives outside of work. As the saying goes, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
Handle conflict and critiques in private. These events are not for public consumption, nor should they be handled via email. Step out of the hallway and get to a place with a door you can close. If someone is upset, let them vent before jumping in. Restrain yourself. Instead, be passive and respectful.
It’s not easy to show restraint. We’re human beings, after all. And we love to be heard and tell others what they need to do. Developing the ability to hold back, listen, and carefully choose our words can build better relationships, workplaces, and communities. Restraint – a value we need more of.
We all want our workplaces to be havens from conflict, a refuge from the strife of the outside world where we can work together in harmony toward shared goals and objectives. In an ideal world, workplaces could be the model for the rest of society. But are they?
The reality is that workplaces are a melting pot, probably more diverse than the social groups we interact with and the neighborhoods we return to at days end.
Herein lies the problem:
• Can we all get along at work when the world outside is swirling with controversy?
• Can we hold those hot-button issues at bay and get our work done with people who may think very differently from ourselves?
• Can we find a way to discuss issues in a civil, empathetic and safe way as a way to open minds and build bridges?
What does “being civil” mean? The author of Rude Awakenings, which I had the pleasure of being a contributing author to, defined it this way: “Being mindful of the dignity of the human being in your sphere, taking care not to demean that individual in any way.”
Civility is linked to the Latin word civitas, which meant “city” and “community” and gave us the word “civilization.” The word itself suggests a larger social concern. When we’re civil, we’re members in good standing of a community, we’re good neighbors and good citizens. We have an active interest in the well-being of our communities and a concern for the planet we inhabit. Choosing civility means choosing to do the right thing for others, for the “city”.
The breakdown in civility begins when people start to believe they’re the center of the universe, rather than a cog in a big wheel. The seeds are planted when people start showing up late, blame others, fail to say “thank you”, or demonstrate a lack of sensitivity. Attitudes of “I don’t care what you think” or “That’s just how I am – deal with it” can have a ripple effect on others and turn workplaces into an “every man for himself” mindset instead of “we’re all in this together.” Civility teaches that every word you say and every action you take impacts others and care should be taken to make our “city” a pleasant and productive place to be.
So what can we do to make our workplaces more civil and the world a better place? Take responsibility!
There are three forms of responsibility to consider:
When you’re professionally responsibility, you take responsibility for the work you produce. You arrive on time, meet deadlines, and pull your weight on projects. You listen well and follow through. You send clear and unemotional emails, leave intelligible voice mails, and stay “present” on phone calls. It also means you do what you can to advance the company brand and make your organization successful. You do more than what it simply required.
Personal Responsibility means you take responsibility for yourself and your actions. You don’t blame or bash others and you admit your mistakes. You don’t yell, make derogatory comments, or spread gossip. You clean up after yourself in break rooms and bathrooms. You do the right thing even when no one is watching, like refilling paper trays, starting a new pot of coffee, or throwing away food leftovers. Those who display personal responsibility demonstrate a high level of emotional intelligence and personal integrity.
Social Responsibility is the type of responsibility where you help others. Do you mentor, support, inspire, coach, encourage, and show compassion? If you’re a supervisor, supervise. If you’re a manager, manage. Are you a leader? Lead! Jump in and do what you can to help those around you grow and succeed.
Take responsibility – and our workplaces and world will be better because of it.
Listening is one of the most important things we do as human beings and projects a well-developed Executive Presence. It demonstrates respect to others, it enables us to understand the other people’s wants and needs, and it can inform and improve our responses. All of us yearn to be heard and acknowledged by others. The challenge is that we think we’re listening to each other, but we’re not. We’re usually just formatting our responses. As Stephen Covey says, we need to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Here are three strategies that can help:
1. Lower the “cone of silence”
Our world is filled with distractions, both external and internal. What pulls your focus away from the other person and their message? If you’re old enough to remember the ‘60’s TV show, “Get Smart”, you’ll remember the “cone of silence”. The cone would descend over two people who needed to privately discuss top-secret information. I know, the cone never worked and actually prevented them from hearing each other, but you get the point. When someone is talking to you, try lowering your own cone of silence to block out everything going on around you.
Distractions generally fall into one of these four categories:
• Your physical comfort – you’re hungry, thirsty, cold, hot, or tired.
• Your psychological barriers – you’re bored or daydreaming, or their topic triggers thoughts of your own past experiences.
• The speaker’s style – they have a monotone voice or accent you don’t understand, or their personal grooming presents a challenge (bad breath, body odor, etc.)
• External interruptions – phone calls or notifications, outside noise or activity, visitors.
Listening takes energy and focus. You must first decide to listen, then work to eliminate all distractions. Stop multitasking, maintain eye contact (where the eyes go the ears will follow) and lower that cone!
2. Clean out your filters
Every message we hear is run through our personal filters, which can include our opinions of the person or issue, our past experiences, prejudices about the idea, and personal agendas. They’re stored in our subconscious and prevent us from being truly present. These biases can distort the message and even trigger our emotions. Develop an awareness of your filters and don’t let them get in the way of true understanding.
Take responsibility for interpretation. Words mean different things to different people, so you might need to ask for definitions (“What did they mean by ‘in the running?’”. “Are you talking about the A Project or B Project?”). Ask clarifying questions if you’re confused (“Are you referring to…?”, “I think I missed something, can you go back to…”). Most people don’t add enough specifics when they speak, so instead of making assumptions and creating a disconnect, make it your job to help them communicate more clearly before you respond.
3. Summarize occasionally
A few summaries as you listen will not only help confirm your understanding of their content, but allow you to also figure out their intent. “So what you’re saying is…”, “So you’re suggesting…, is that correct”? You’re floating ideas for confirmation and direction—and what they answer will help you formulate your next question or comment. Your summaries and questions can also help them figure out what’s missing, what’s possible, and what isn’t.
As you can see, effective listening often requires you to do some talking, along with focusing like a laser. Incorporate the three techniques above to their content—and your content will be better as a result.
A big dose of civility is what America needs right now, especially when our freedom of speech is under as much fire as it is these days. A civil society encourages dialogue and creates an environment where people feel free to express their views and not be silenced because of them.
Incivility is rampant in our current political process, along with our workplaces, sporting arenas, and roadways, but I’m even more troubled with what I see happening on America’s college campuses. They used to be places where free speech was celebrated, where a diversity of ideas was welcomed, nurtured, shared, and debated. Protests and civil disobedience were not unusual occurrences where a big, messy marketplace of ideas was available to all. Yes, I realize they didn’t always end peacefully, but these voices weren’t shot down by dissenters before they even started. People were given the opportunity to learn and then make their own decisions.
Now, many universities are either being forced to change their policies or have jumped on that bandwagon willingly—cancelling speakers that might have a different worldview, silencing student groups, and turning free spaces into “safe spaces”. Many campuses now have “bias response teams” to investigate claims of students’ feelings being hurt. When did we develop such thin skins? When did we lose the ability to hear others’ opinions and not be personally violated? It’s been reported that at one Big 10 university, resident advisors are being pressured to coerce students into signing an overly-broad “civility pledge” which, when combined with their new “Inclusive Language Campaign”, can lead, in my opinion, to administrative overreach and senseless investigations. Please—do not tarnish the magnificent concept of civility by attaching it to something that borders on intimidation.
Wouldn’t it be better if we encouraged free speech and exposed students to all ideas and worldviews? Wouldn’t it be better if we taught the art of civility which teaches people how to listen well, ask insightful questions, seek to understand, and then ultimately respect the other person’s opinion—even when it’s different than their own? Wouldn’t it be better if we had the skills to handle a diversity of viewpoints and disagreements ourselves, instead of running off to administrations, HR, or the government to step in and regulate it?
I agree with John Marshall, Vice President of Student Services at Colorado Mesa University, who said, “We need to help challenge our students. You don’t have a right not to be uncomfortable. We don’t always need to create these ultra-sensitive responses. We want [students] to think critically and deal with each other with respect and civility.” And I applaud the recent event at the Aspen Ideas Festival, where professors and authors spoke up about the failure of college administrators to respect free speech. http://www.campusreform.org/?ID=7797
Civility is not about silencing other’s views or even successfully convincing them of yours. Civility has nothing to do with coercion, regulation, or pointing fingers. It is about encouraging a marketplace of ideas, where diversity of thought and worldviews is encouraged, and interactions and disagreements with others are handled with respect and grace.
I recently learned of a unique hiring test conducted by the CEO of Charles Schwab. In an effort to understand the true character of each candidate, Walt Bettinger, Charles Schwab CEO, interviews them over breakfast at a restaurant. But unbeknownst to the prospect, Mr. Bettinger tells the restaurant ahead of time to mess up their order. The purpose? To reveal the heart of the candidate along with their ability to handle challenges. When presented with the wrong food, do they become frustrated or angry? Do they lash out at the server? Or are they able to take the situation in hand and act graciously?
Manners are much more than knowing which fork to use or how to properly shake hands. Manners are a hallmark of a civil society. When manners are absent, boundaries begin to vanish, people don’t feel respected, and civility starts to break down. The rituals of etiquette help to establish civility. As P.M. Forni shared in his classic work, Choosing Civility, “Manner comes from manus, the Latin word for hand. We have good manners when we use our hands well, when we handle others with care.” Our manners reveal how we view the world—with either everything revolving around us at the center, or with us as just a cog in a bigger wheel where everything we say and do has an impact on others.
Social graces can be learned. Character can be harder to teach. But a good place to start is by learning basic etiquette. Then, when the spotlight is on, you’ll know exactly what to do and can do it with respect and grace. Good manners are good for business—and they might just get you that job!