10 Simple Things You Can Do (and NOT Do) to Practice Civility, Respect & Inclusion at Work

by Paul Meshanko

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Sometimes the easiest things to do on occasion are the hardest to turn into regular habits. Why? Because developing new habits is tricky, requiring both intention and practice. This is particularly true when it comes to being more respectful, civil and inclusive in our work behaviors because our brains our constantly trying to balance doing what’s best for ourselves vs. what’s good for others. So, assuming that you are a reasonably good person (according to the American Psychological Association, about 98% of us are), let’s take a quick look at some really basic things we can incorporate into our day-to-day interactions with co-workers that will benefit them and potentially help ourselves at the same time.

Things to Start Doing More Often

  1. Look for reasons to compliment others. Since most of us like to be appreciated ourselves, practice paying it forward first. Look for the positive in others. Make it your responsibility to catch at least 2 or 3 people in the act of doing something awesome each day …and tell them! Then watch how faces light up and smiles emerge.
  2. Take a personal interest in your peers. Even though it is work that often brings us together, never forget that we are people first and co-workers second. We all have partners and spouses, families, hobbies, interests, skills and accomplishments that we wish others knew about. So practice curiosity and make the effort to learn about (and appreciate) those that you spend so much time with each week as full, authentic human beings. You’re likely to find both awe-inspiring differences as well as gratifying similarities.
  3. Give others your undivided attention when talking to them. While a hard habit to break for some, try getting in the practice of putting your phone down when talking to your peers (or anyone). This increases the likelihood that you’ll make direct eye contact with them and convey the impression that you are actually paying full attention to what they have to say.
  4. Ask others for their ideas and opinions. On most topics, you already know how you see things. So one of the most powerful ways to show respect and be inclusive is to ask others how they see things or for their suggestions. The challenge here is to refrain from judgment when others’ ideas or opinions diverge from our own and be willing to genuinely consider (and discuss) new or opposing points of view.
  5. Looks for ways to validate others. Acknowledge your co-workers’ efforts, contributions and ideas. Even if you disagree with their perspectives or opinions, you can always acknowledge their willingness to participate in the conversation or discussion anyway. Consider using the following phrase: “While I personally see things a bit differently, I really do appreciate you sharing your thoughts on the topic because it helps me see the situation from a different point of view.”
  6. Make the time to welcome new co-workers. There is nothing more inclusive than a friendly welcome and introduction of yourself when a new person joins the team. Make it your job to be one of the first to welcome new employees so they start to feel like a valued, integral part of their new community sooner rather than later. You never know when that new person will be able to return the favor and help you in return.

Things to Stop

  1. Do not participate in gossip. Not only should you not participate (listen to or spread) in talking about others in your organization when they’re not present, you should also politely discourage others from the same. If another colleague tries to engage you in gossip, just smile and politely say, “You know, as interesting as it might seem, we probably shouldn’t be talking about ‘John’ behind his back. We certainly wouldn’t want him to do that to us.”
  2. Don’t be a bully. If you have a habit of forcing your opinion on others or talking and behaving in ways that make other people feel insecure or devalued, knock it off. There is no place for that kind of behavior in a respectful workplace. Choose to be an ally, not a bully.
  3. Stop thinking that you’re right about everything. Because you’re not. While it’s important to hold your own opinions and beliefs in high regard, it’s equally important to allow others to do the same and not roll our eyes (figuratively or literally) when others voice a different perspective. Respect, civility and inclusion are all anchored by a deep appreciation for and honoring of our differences.
  4. Don’t lose your temper. While conflicts of ideas and opinions are an important ingredient for long-term organizational effectiveness, hostility is not. Practicing individual self-control is an important part of your overall emotional intelligence and a crucial ingredient for civility. It’s up to you to find ways to disagree without losing your cool and verbally erupting on others.

When it comes down to it, being respectful, civil and inclusive isn’t really rocket science. But neither is it easy to practice all the time. So, assuming that you are a good person (as I like to believe I am), make the decision to hold yourself to high community standards. Life is short and little things can matter profoundly. As fellow “human becomings,” it’s our job to support and build each other up when we come to work, not tear each other down.