Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.
This nursery rhyme from the 1830’s, created to help children develop self-control in the face of taunting, sets us up to think we have to accept incivility.
From an early age, we are told to “toughen up” and ignore others’ insults and disrespect.
Words do hurt. To deny the power of words to hurt, denies the power of words to heal.
A predictor of how we handle incivility is linked to our ability to control the situation. If someone with more power to control the situation–boss, parent, teacher–treats us poorly we can struggle with feelings of helplessness.
Our question becomes: What can we do when we are not treated with kindness and respect, or when we see others not being treated with kindness and respect?
Here are some ideas.
Don’t go there.
When someone treats us rudely and with disrespect the first reaction may be from a place of anger.
Don’t go there.
Anger and revenge will draw you into the downward spiral of disrespect and unkindness.
Years ago, I watched an irate customer yell and curse at an airline employee. The employee seemed to be in control, but I prepared to find a security guard.
This employee stood and listened until the customer was silent.
Her response? Thank you, sir. How can I help you?
The customer said, “I’m sorry. I just want to get home as soon as I can.”
Insults defused by an employee who offered kindness and respect in the face of incivility.
Most of us don’t have the training or self-restraint of this airline employee, but we can choose to not engage in anger and retaliation.
Use a stop sign.
When you are treated with incivility, stop replaying the incident.
Take control of your negative emotions by putting up a mental stop sign when you start to think about the incident.
Take a deep breath and move on to a positive aspect of your life. For myself, I visualize taking a walk in the woods and leaving the incident behind to be covered with leaves.
Christine Porath, in Mastering Incivility, asks herself this question: Am I going to fight for my past or my future?
That phrase helps her move forward and not “stare in the rearview mirror” when incivility strikes.
Make a plan.
If you are in a toxic work environment, make a plan to find a way out.
Take a night course. Volunteer. Look for a new job. Learn a new skill.
Look forward and not behind. Make a plan and grow into it.
Put on your oxygen mask first.
When my husband became a private pilot, I learned why on every flight the attendant tells you, “in case of emergency, before helping others, put on your oxygen mask first”.
At 40,000 feet of altitude you have less than 20 seconds before you pass out from oxygen deprivation.
In 20 seconds without the mask, everyone on the plane will be unconscious and in five minutes, or less, everyone will be dead.
When you are dealing with incivility, you need to take care of yourself. Put on your oxygen mask, first.
If we take care of ourselves, it’s easier to have the self-control to be kind in the face of incivility.
Good nutrition, sleep, stress management and exercise help you take care of yourself so you can be there for others.
Set the tone.
As a school leader act with courage to provide a civil environment.
Keep this question in the air: Who do you want to be?
Help others become aware of their disrespectful and unkind behaviors, and how they can change them.
Discuss with your community members–children, families, staff members– what they can do to become kinder and more respectful.
Use Porath’s chart and discussion questions, Who’s Civil in Your Group?.
Creating a community and a culture based on civility takes courage.
Yes, it will feel uncomfortable.
We know, though, what the alternative looks like.
I encourage you to take a leadership role to guide your community to a place of kindness and respect.
It’s what the world needs now.
This Month's Challenge:
An Antidote to Incivility by Christine Porath
Harvard Business Review
Mastering Civility by Christine Porath, Chapter 14, pages 163-179