Does civility matter? You bet it does says Bonnie Low-Kramen

We are living in crazy times where mean-spirited words and deeds are common and shockingly normalized. Is that OK with you? It sure is not OK with me and I want us to take action before it gets any worse.

Administrative professionals have known forever that the way to get the best results is almost never with verbal weaponry but rather with a generous dose of courtesy, respect, and accountability. That idea is bumping into the modern reality of our plethora of devices and a frantic world with everyone rushing about running out of time and patience.

So, what do we do? How do we swing the pendulum back towards civility and respect?


Holding people accountable is one answer. Truthfully yet with compassion. Calmly and directly say, “You may not realize it, but I am offended by what you said/did and feel it was unnecessary and hurtful. I hope no one speaks to anyone you care about in that way.” And then be open to a conversation. It’s time to engage in difficult conversations.

Role Models

Being good role models about the behaviors that work is also the answer. After all, you can’t be it if you can’t see it. Gandhi was right – “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Positive Reinforcement

I am a fan of offering positive feedback when some exhibits a thoughtful behavior. Call it out. Like the young man or woman who cheerfully gives up their subway seat for a pregnant woman or someone who needs help. I find a way to say, “I saw what you did and that was really great. Thanks for being a role model for others.”

In our frantic 24/7 non-stop global workplace, here are a few more suggestions for a more civil workplace:

Say, “Good morning First Name” and be sure to pronounce the name correctly. Say “please” and “thank you” and “you’re welcome” often. It matters to use peoples’ names. After all, there is nothing more personal to someone than their name and most people enjoy hearing it.

Go out of your way to get to know the new people at the office and make them feel welcome as quickly as possible Everyone wants to feel like they belong. “Would you like to join us?” is one powerful question that is welcome and remembered.

True Confession

I admit that I have a pet peeve which has to do with email. In my work as a speaker and trainer, I often receive requests for help, many from people I have never met. These requests can be for assistance to land a new job, negotiate a raise, or identify a contact. I enjoy responding to these emails – with one exception.

Emails that do not contain the words “please” and “thank you” irk me, especially but not limited to when the writer is asking for something. Having little time is no excuse. I have begun writing back with precisely that direct feedback. Usually the response is a sincere apology’ Sometimes it is a half-hearted apology, and other times the writer gets defensive. These responses speak volumes about the person asking for help.

Company Culture

If we are serious about building cultures of civility and respect, then we must have zero-tolerance for incivility and disrespect. Everything becomes possible in a culture of respect. Those ideas can be clearly communicated on the careers tab on the company websites, verbiage on job descriptions, and during the interview process for new candidates. It is a trend that assistants are sitting in on interviews for both new assistants and leaders and that is a great way to set the culture expectations before someone is hired.

The Future is Right Now

 In our chaotic world filled with people questioning what is real and what is not, let us make choices every day which embrace kindness, empathy, and civility towards our fellow humans. As people, it’s impossible to forget when others are mean, rude, and even cruel. It is equally unforgettable when others offer a hand and kindness in the face of tough times.

Be unforgettable for the right reasons. Let’s insist on civility.

Bonnie Low-Kramen is the founder of Ultimate Assistant Training and is one of the most respected thought leaders on workplace issues. She is a TEDx speaker, bestselling author of Be the Ultimate Assistant and Staff Matters, and her work has been featured ... (Read More)

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