Delivering civility training is critical for establishing and maintaining productive inclusive workplaces, especially in today’s divisive, politically charged climate.
If you want the lessons of civil behavior to really take hold in your organization, your civility initiative should be seen as a means to positively affect results and help surface new ideas and issues.
How can you make sure your training leads to increased civil behavior?
I have four recommendations. The first two are based on the notion that the content of your training must convey the right message—namely, that civil behavior is a critical business issue. The second two deal with how to keep civility alive in your workplace, long after the training program is over.
1. Re-frame Uncivil Topics as Productivity Killers
Civility training shouldn’t be framed as something that will make individuals kinder or more sensitive, important as those characteristics may be. If leaders and team members think civility is a nice to have skill with no correlation to business results, your civility efforts will be short circuited, and civility will be seen as less important than hardline imperatives like efficiency, quality, innovation, sales, safety, and, of course, the bottom line.
People will only give serious attention to civility if it is treated as a serious issue.
First and foremost, your training must link “improved civility” to “improved operational results.”
Second, as I covered in this post, it must make it clear to employees exactly what kind of behavior is appropriate at work. The concept of civility not only varies from person to person, but from environment to environment. For example, you would expect people participating in services in a house of worship to act differently from those sitting in the stands at a football game.
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That’s why your civility training will need to be specific about what behaviors demonstrate values like “respect” and “fairness” and be clear about which topics and actions are off limits because they harm productivity or conflict with organizational standards.
The training should make absolutely clear that there is no business value for “jokes” or generalization based on race, sex, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, age, or gender. No one will raise their hand to say that they enjoy when people demean or joke about these characteristics when it pertains to them. The data has backed this up again and again.
2. Treat Effective Listening as an Essential Business Skill
The ability to listen respectfully is the core of civil interactions, so your training should emphasize that listening is an essential workplace skill (and a true prerequisite for anyone who wants to advance within the organization!).
The fact is that being a “good listener” is more than an innate talent only a few possess. Your civility training should explain that effective listening requires commitment to the organization’s values, awareness of when listening is the best response, and practice so it becomes a behavioral habit.
Training for your leaders at all levels should emphasize that listening in a respectful, civil way involves understanding their own body language, tone, and facial expressions — not just their words — can imply disdain or lack of attention and do real damage to your culture.
When your organization chooses to treat listening as an important operational skill instead of just a “nice” quality that people can choose to use or not, it’s sending the message that civil behavior is not optional.
After the training, the skills of listening and receiving feedback should be assessed and scored along with other criteria and skills on employees’ regular reviews and in recommendations for advancement.
3. Incentivize Civility and Address Incivility
Does your office hold friendly competitions for sales numbers? Do you have awards for top earners or others who have gone above and beyond to help the business? Do you celebrate big achievements such as landing new clients or completing big projects? Do you tend to recognize employees’ achievements at the annual holiday party?
If you want your civility training to be effective, you’ll find ways to incentivize civility just as you do these things.
You can recognize employees for good behavior or for appropriately reporting problems. The way you handle awards and what exact behaviors you incentivize can be unique to your company’s culture and goals. The key is to work them in with the incentives your organization already uses.
The same goes for uncivil behavior. Surely your company already has a disciplinary code in place for issues like consistently missing work or failing to meet financial or operational goals. These same corrective and disciplinary measures should be applied when employees fail to meet civil behavior requirements, too.
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4. Incorporate Civility Training Into Onboarding
Most organizations routinely hold orientation and training for new employees so that they can learn more about the company’s procedures, machines, software, and other practices. Incorporating civility training in with these initiatives is key to helping maintain a civil work environment.
Teaching new hires exactly what you expect (topics to avoid, behaviors to encourage, how to respond to and report problems) implies (correctly) that:
- Civility initiatives are tied to organizational initiatives with measurable benefits
- Demonstrating core behaviors is expected in daily performance
- That they will be handled just like any other goal or standard, not just tacked on at the end of other, more critical initiatives.
You should make it clear that your organization expects civil behavior from all employees as early as possible. Even the interview process can clarify the importance of respectful, civil behavior in daily interactions.
Assuring Civility Training Takes Root
Many organizations make the mistake of treating civility training as a one-time, mandatory event. Once that’s done, it can be checked off the list until next year.
But if you’re truly committed to creating a welcoming workplace, your organization must dedicate itself to civility every day, continuously.
Integrating the lessons learned in civility training into the language, systems and routines that are already in place for other critical initiatives is a great way to ensure that civility efforts get the ongoing attention they deserve.