It seems that leadership and civility would be an easy discussion. Alas, it is not. Civility is a concept that seems to be lost in today’s society even though it is absolutely essential for good teams. A cultural shift has been happening and now it seems that being civil means only accepting other’s thoughts when they agree with yours. The only allowable discussion is when we all agree. Dissent will not be tolerated.
That’s a formula for a dysfunctional team.
Being civil is more than just avoiding conflict. In fact real civility is the ability to have discussions in which not everyone agrees. Real civility is the ability to embrace conflict as a benefit to the team.
Unfortunately it isn’t as easy as that. In fact, in today’s polarized world it’s really quite difficult. There are a few steps, granted with varying levels of difficulty, which will help establish a civil culture in your team.
• Establish a motivational environment. Recognize the contributions and value of every team member.
• Insist on open discussions and make sure everyone’s thoughts on the topic are heard.
• Draw out quiet team members. Even though they may not be as assertive, they still have valuable contributions.
• Allow, even encourage conflict, but keep it to the topic at hand. Immediately stop the conversation when it strays from that topic. Never allow the discussion to become personal.
There’s a problem though.
0ur society seems to thrive on individual offense. There are some who actively look for something that might offend them.
What’s a leader to do?
There is no easy answer. The suggested steps for establishing a civil culture are a good start. Once this culture is established taking offense at what others say will be less common. When it does happen, try these actions.
• Listen carefully and take the complaint seriously. Try to draw out the details about what precisely this person found offensive.
• Ask questions like, “What specifically was offensive?” “Why did the person find that offensive?” “Do you think the other person meant to offend you?”
This process serves to clearly define the issue at hand. As with any other problem, it is not sufficient for a team member to just say “I have a problem and you need to fix it.” Instead, you as a leader need to take the approach that, “We have a problem and we need to address it.”
• After you’ve gather the information, it is time to bring the other person, the accused, into the conversation. This must be handled carefully.
• Ask if the accused was aware that a statement was offensive to the accuser. This is pretty much a yes or no question and doesn’t require a lot of discussion.
• Now allow the accuser to explain why they found the statement offensive.
• Facilitate an open, civil discussion where hopefully the accused understands the accuser did not mean to offend and the accused understands why the accuser found the comment offensive. If apologies flow naturally fine, but don’t try to force an apology. That will only spark resentment.
It’s essential for leaders to address these problems quickly. They hamper the sort of open communication that is essential for real team effectiveness.
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