Restrain Yourself!

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.

© 2018 Jill Bremer

3 Ways to Increase Civility in Your Workplace

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:

Professional Responsibility

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

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

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.

Incivility a problem in your workplace? Our full-day Civility in the Workplace workshop can help. Contact

© Jill Bremer 2018


3 Tips to Better Listening

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.

©Jill Bremer 2017

Practice Safe Text!

textingTexting is here to stay and quickly becoming the preferred method of communication by all ages in all places. But like every other form of techno-communication, usage far outpaced the rulebooks and etiquette for using it. So, what are the best ways to text so that we don’t cause confusion or hurt feelings?

  • Don’t text someone while also having a conversation or a meal with someone else. It’s rude to suggest that anything is more important than who you’re with face-to-face. If you must check an incoming message, explain first to your companions what’s happening and why. (“Excuse me a sec, I just got an update from the airline.”).
  • Avoid texting at odd hours. Remember time zone differences. Just because you’re awake doesn’t mean they are on the receiving end. And do you really want your clients to know that you’re up and working at 3:30 am?
  • Emojis can be very helpful in texts to add the emotion we’re trying to communicate. But don’t send them upstream in your workplace unless the higher-up has used them downstream first.
  • Limit your use of group texts. From time to time, they’ve made us all feel like we’re part of a hostage situation. Keep the group small and the topics short.
  • You already know you shouldn’t text while driving. But it’s also rude—and dangerous—to text someone you know for a fact is behind the wheel themselves. Don’t tempt them into responding. It’s actually better to call.
  • It’s also dangerous to text while walking, drinking, or walking and drinking! You don’t want to fall off the curb and/or send the racy text you meant for your sweetheart to your boss instead. And while we’re at it, double-check every message and the recipient’s name/number before you hit “send.” We’ve all seen those bizarre auto-corrected messages that were sent by mistake!
  • If you’re texting someone who may not have your number, it’s polite to also add your name – “Hi, it’s Jill…”
  • With apologies to all the English majors out there, periods are becoming a thing of the past, especially in short or one-word texts. Periods can be perceived as having an emotional charge, like an emoticon, and can communicate insincerity, snarky-ness, even aggression.

© Jill Bremer 2016

Free Speech + Civility = A Good Combination

BusinessMeetingDebate061411iStock_0A 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.

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.

If you need more civility in your workplace, please check out

© 2016 Jill Bremer

Etiquette for Open-Space Offices

SWA-officeOpen-space offices are on the rise. The Pros: they offer a great way for us to communicate and collaborate. The Cons: they bring with them many of the same challenges we had in cubicles—a lack of privacy along with noise and distractions. Here are some ways to survive and thrive in an open environment.

Maintain Your Sanity

  • Noise-cancelling headphones may be one of the best investments you can make. Whether you play music through them or not, they can give you that oasis of peace in the sea of chaos swirling around you.
  • For the times you need to focus hard on a task, block out the time on your calendar and set your IM to “busy”. Some people block out 2-hour no-interruption time slots each day for focused work time.
  • Let people know you’d prefer them to schedule a meeting with you any time they have a non-urgent issue, rather than dropping by.
  • If you find you have the same people interrupting you often, it might be wise to schedule daily meeting times with them or the whole team—to better control the unannounced visits.
  • Changing your location during the day can boost your productivity and give you the physical and mental refreshment you may need. Try moving to a meeting room, company library, or coffee shop when you need to focus on something important.
  • Clear the clutter! Visual “noise” can be as annoying as audible noise. You’ll be better able to focus, produce, and process in clean and streamlined surroundings.

Play Nice with Others

  • Just because you can see someone from your desk doesn’t mean they’re available to talk. Find out first if they’re free before stopping by.
  • Try not to interrupt someone wearing headphones. They’ve got them on for a reason.
  • Keep your volume low when talking on the phone, especially if you’re the type that needs to do a “walkabout” as you talk.
  • If you must eat at your desk, be careful of smelly food. Good smells or bad, they all can disturb your neighbors. Cold foods like sandwiches and salads won’t bother anyone; hot foods should be eaten elsewhere.
  • Play music, video clips, and movies only through your headset.
  • Never read someone’s computer screen or comment on conversations you’ve overheard in the airspace. Resist answering questions you overheard emanating from the desks around you!

© 2016 Jill Bremer

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