Civility in this country seems to be in short supply and the mechanisms that typically safeguard it are structurally deficient and even functionally obsolete. The shortage of civility is threatening our civilized world. Indeed, just a few weeks ago we witnessed a Congressman calling the President an outright liar while the latter was delivering a speech, although some might give the Congressman kudos for at least insulting the President to his face and not in cyberpace. What's worse, the Civility Project, an initiative launched that was designed to bring more awareness to the need for civility in the political process, is shutting down after only three of 585 sitting representatives, senators, and governors agreed to sign a simple pledge that included the following - "I will be civil in my discourse and behavior;" "I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them;" I will stand against incivility when I see it." (Hope does remain alive, however, as the Civility Initiative at JHU continues to pursue its objectives - see http://krieger.jhu.edu/civility).
We all know that web-based incivility has gone viral, with no boundaries to the attacks launched. What's often overlooked, though, is that workplace incivility has penetrated environments in such subtly insidious and even blatantly invidious ways that its toxicity is now impairing output. How does incivility manifest itself? Below are just some examples;
- sending an insulting email.
- asking for input and then ignoring the reply.
- "forgetting" to share credit with colleagues for work done in collaboration.
- interrupting or being verbally abusive in conversations.
- giving the "silent" treatment.
Clearly, we face a growing problem. So, maybe it's time for civility engineers to sprout up and get to work...on building "bridges" that connect human beings in healthier ways, on paving "pathways" that will enhance civil discourse, on designing "infrastructures" that will ensure constructive communication, on planning "dams" that will stop the flow of toxic incivility, on any project that will limit the damage caused by vitriolic spills and outbursts. Human relations managers, you might be thinking, are charged with these responsibilities, arent't they? Well, it seems they have other issues to contend with these days. We need a radical intervention. We need a new corp of civility engineers.
Sound far-fetched? My guess is that interior re-designers once did, too. And so did social media strategists and user experience analysts, and even search engine optimization specialists. As Rodney King implored back in the '80s (remember?), "Can't we all just get along?" It seems like we all can't anymore. It seems like the civilized world has become so devisive and communication so derisive that a solution will need to emerge that doesn't now exist.
Could civility engineers be that solution? If someone has the will, perhaps one can find a way. Clearly, there's a need. Let's be honest.