Book Review: Choosing Civility by P.M. Forni

Choosing Civility by PM Forni

How does a professor of Italian fiction and poetry end up becoming a leading expert on civility? P.M. Forni realized he wanted to teach his students to be kind human beings more than he wanted them to know about a particular poet. He took his role as a teacher seriously and started offering lectures and workshops on civility.

Forni introduces his book in this manner:

I am convinced that, to a significant extent, life is what our relationships make it. Every page of this book is imbued with this simple conviction. Good relationships make our lives good; bad relationships make our lives bad. We are usually happy (or unhappy) with others. Although at times we can be happy in spite of others, we are usually happy thanks to them, and thanks to the good relationships we have with them.

As you can see by the title, Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conductthere are rules of conduct, that Forni has determined from studying a vast body of work.  He looked at religious texts from major religions, Victorian books on manners, the works of philosophers such as Plato and Kant and more recent self-help books.

To many people, rules of conduct feel ominous, like a teacher standing over us with ruler in one hand waiting to correct our behavior.

If you dislike this didactic approach, another way to use the book is to look at the rules in the book as behaviors or skills  that are useful when it comes to building relationships with others. If you went through the rules you would probably realize that you are already applying many of these behaviors in your life. In addition, you might also be surprised by some of the rules.  For example “Give constructive criticism” is a skill or behavior that most people don’t think relates to civility.

Our intention at The Wallace Centers of Iowa is to look at the historical life of Henry A. Wallace and distill a few “seeds of civility” or practices that can be foundational to teaching leaders in the workplace. Our workshops include an opportunity for people to consider their civility strengths and then help them select a few civility practices to apply in an intentional way.

A Challenge: Gratitude in the Workplace

Link to Templeton Foundation

Source: The Templeton Foundation

The concept of gratitude came up in our  last post. Digging deeper into this notion, we discovered a survey that was completed by The John Templeton Foundation.

Gratitude is related to civility because the behavior of saying “thank you” is a small action that can lead to respect of others. When we are thankful, we take time to appreciate the value of others and we see the world as bigger than ourselves.

The Templeton Survey of 2,000 Americans, taken in 2012, revealed interesting findings about the place most of us spend a majority of our time, the workplace:

• People are less likely to express gratitude at work than anyplace else
• 74% reported that they rarely express gratitude to their boss.
• 70% reported that they would feel better about themselves if their boss were more grateful.
• 81% reported that they would work harder if their boss was more appreciative.

What would happen if people first appreciated their boss or something that is good about their workplace?

Here’s a challenge for November: Make a list of 10 things that you appreciate about your boss or your workplace. The challenge is intended to determine for yourself if just appreciating things at work will make you feel or act differently.

In case you are wondering why you should bother, check out this article “Why Gratitude is Good?

The Wallace Centers of Iowa  is a non-profit organization with the mission of enriching community through sustainable food and civility initiatives. We teach civility as a foundational component to leadership and talent development.

Advice for Kids Applied to the Workplace

advice

This week a timely article “7 Do’s of Trick-or-Treat: A Lesson in Civility,” was published from PBS Kids.

The underlying theme of respect is emphasized in the first six tips.

At The Wallace Centers of Iowa, we define civility as small actions that lead to respect for others. We teach workplace leadership that is grounded in civility. When small actions are added together, they build a strong, healthy workplace.

At work, we have no control over what others respect. We are all different and have different values. However, when we choose to incorporate civility practices into our work, everyone benefits.

In the spirit of Halloween fun, let’s see how these tips can translate into civility practices for the workplace.

  • Do only go to houses with lights on.“Not every family participates in Halloween. We should respect that different families do different things.”

Recognize that people have different working styles. Look for clues as to when and how to interact with them.

  • Do stay on paths.“Avoid trampling Mrs. Foster’s flowers. She’s worked so hard on them.”

Recognize that people work hard on their projects; they probably think they are doing what is expected of them. If you need to give them constructive feedback do, it is essential to getting work done together. Do avoid trampling on their work. A good practice is to notice when they do things well. When it is time to share constructive feedback they will be more accepting of your input.

  • Do say trick or treat in a clear, friendly tone.

If you want or need something, speak up in a clear, direct and friendly tone. Don’t assume people will understand what you need in order to get your work done. They are busy getting their work done.

  • Do avoid crowding the person handing out the candy.

Most likely, the person handing out the candy at work is your boss. S/he needs space to get her/his work done. Determine how they would prefer for you to interact with them. If you can’t figure it out, ask. You can say: “When I need to connect with you, what is your preferred way to answer questions or stay informed about my work?”

  • Do take only one candy unless you’re offered more.“There are a lot of kids out tonight. Let’s leave enough candy for everyone.”

This one is tricky because there are times when you do need more than what you are offered.  There is a time and place for negotiation. Do not take things like extra time or property that belongs to the organization, without discussing or negotiating first.

  • Do say“thank you” even if you don’t like the candy offered.

Sometimes work is full of tasks that really aren’t your thing. Saying thank you is really just being grateful for what you have. This civility practice is being researched by scientists from the University of California, Berkeley.  We will explore about the civility practice of gratitude in our next post.