You're encouraged to join and participate in what I hope will be an on-going conversation. Your participation will make this effort a much more worthwhile endeavor. Be sure to click on the "Comments" tab below to read what others have written in response. I look forward to hearing more from you.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Wanted: Civility Engineers

Let's be honest.  Surely you've heard someone mention in recent years what they do for a living and you've wondered - Huh?  What exactly is that?  Well, where there's a will, there's a way.  And it seems like where there's a need there's a niche.  So, people are carving careers out of problems that need solutions, although I guess you could say it's always been this way.  Maybe you're looking to spruce up your living room but you're short on cash.  No problem - just hire an interior redesigner.  No need for new purchases - S/he'll take what you have and rearrange it.  And what about social media strategists or user experience analysts?  Thanks to the web, several careers like the aforementioned have evolved that weren't even imagined a few years ago. And lots of careers have sprouted from fertile opportunities in seemingly barren land.  Here's one we desperately need - civility engineers.

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.
No doubt, you could add more.  In the process, incivility is making us less productive by adding stress to our lives and subtracting engagement from our work (a case could easily be made for incivility doing the same to students in school).  A video to the right of this page (The Hidden Costs of Workplace Incivility) summarizes some of the research that reveals the toxic nature of incivility.  And then, of course, there are the random acts of unkindness to which we are subjected almost daily in our own personal lives.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment