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(AP Photo/Bradley C. Bower, File) Within each interaction, we have the power to make someone feel good or bad, based on how we treat them, advises author Sara Hacala, author. In exchanges, such as debates over health care reform, if we become defensive, we have stopped listening.
Business Insight: Creating a culture of civility starts with us

With commitment to others, we can build trust in the workplace and beyond.

First Published Feb 10 2012 09:21 am • Last Updated May 24 2012 11:34 pm

Sara Hacala, author of "Saving Civility, 52 ways to Tame Rude, Crude & Attitude for a Polite Planet," says people can reverse incivility in the workplace and elsewhere, and make the world more pleasant.

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What power do individuals have to make the world more civil?

Although, ultimately, we can control only ourselves, our behavior, manners, values, and attitudes can set a tone and create a ripple effect — positive or negative — flowing to those around us. Within every single interaction, we have the power to make someone feel good or bad, based on how we treat them. As parents, we can teach and model respectful and compassionate behavior to our children to instill manners and empathy. As managers, we can create a culture of civility in the workplace, so that employees feel safe and productive, and customers can feel valued. As employees, we can develop respectful relationships with colleagues. In organization or government meetings, we can choose to not participate in discussions where fellow participants are "shredded," or speak out when they are. With discernment, we can strive for truth; with commitment, we can build communities.

How can kindness and generosity benefit your own health?

Social scientists tell us that, overwhelmingly, our interpersonal relationships have the capacity to generate our greatest happiness in life. Practicing acts of kindness and generosity deepens those connections to others and even to our community, increasing our sense of interdependence and cooperation. University of California Riverside professor Sonja Lyubomirsky was among the first whose research linked acts of kindness to increased levels of happiness. In addition to perceiving others — and ourselves —more positively, we often have a heightened sense of self-worth and being appreciated, and frequently have lower levels of depression. Further, Dr. Stephen Post of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love in Cleveland points to more than 500 scientific studies that reveal how generous people live longer, happier and healthier lives.

Why must we take a long and honest look at ourselves?

Human beings have an uncanny knack for readily spotting the faults of others, while ignoring or justifying our own. Before judging others’ behavior, we need be aware of how we behave and are perceived. Each of us has strengths, as well as shortcomings; in our self-assessment, we need to be willing to ask ourselves tough questions. We must also recognize that our values, attitudes, beliefs, prejudices and emotions ultimately reflect how we treat others — respectfully or not. Am I courteous, taking time to listen and pay attention, or do I constantly interrupt and devalue others’ opinions? Are "please" and "thank you" part of my vocabulary, or am I entitled and arrogant? Is my behavior a fitting role model for my children? Do I accept responsibility or blame others? Am I cool under fire? Patient? Trustworthy? Helpful?

What are ways to defuse conflict?

Listen carefully and be willing to entertain another point of view; you might learn something. If you become defensive, you have stopped listening. Interject comments such as "I see your point," to indicate your understanding. Ask questions to clarify that you are hearing what the other party means, not what you think that they are saying. Re-frame the remarks of the other person if he has misconstrued yours. Keep the discussion fact-based, not a personal attack. Avoid absolutes, and give up the need to win at all costs. You can say almost anything — however disagreeable — if your tone of voice is neutral, devoid of condescension or sarcasm. The moment that you "know it all" and the other side "knows nothing," the discussion derails. If you are wrong or have wronged, be willing to offer a genuine apology—a great de-fuser of conflict. For more information, visit www.savingcivility.com.

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