Can We Define Civility?

Webster’s Dictionary defines civility as formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech. The UMB core values describe civility as professional, ethical, respectful, and courteous interactions. These definitions leave a lot of room for interpretation. Let’s look at the opposite end of the behavioral spectrum and see if we can find civility by looking at regulations regarding what not to do in terms of bullying or abusive conduct.

According to the state of California, the legal definition of abusive conduct is “conduct of an employer or employee, with malice that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legit business interests.” The definition includes the following examples: the use of derogatory remarks or insults; verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating, or humiliating; and gratuitous undermining of a person’s work performance.

There also are many descriptions of bullying in the workplace, online, and in literature.  Maryland’s anti-bullying statute, 7-424.1, says, “Bullying, harassment, or intimidation means intentional conduct, including verbal, physical, or written conduct.” Other definitions include targeted behavior that demeans someone in public, isolates them from others, keeps them out of the information loop, gives unrealistic projects or deadlines, calls them names, and assigns them unfavorable projects, to name a few.

So civil behavior lies somewhere in between formal manners and bullying. Do we know it when we see it or hear it? I think so. Could your opinion be different than mine? Possibly. What do we do about that? Do we give up because we don’t agree?

There is another option. You can speak up when you think someone is being uncivil to you or to someone else. You don’t need to attack them — that would be uncivil. You can simply let the person know politely that they have offended you and what they did that was offensive. Some people will be surprised that they have offended you and be apologetic. Some will accuse you of being overly sensitive. Either way, they will have learned something about you during that exchange; and if they care about fostering a positive relationship, they will be careful not to do that again in your presence.

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