National Civility Foundation Blog

September 15, 2019

Thoughtfulness

At a time when everything in our world is so obtuse from attitude, ethics and language to forms of address, manners and attire the rules of social conduct have never before been in such short supply.  We have an opportunity and a responsibility to step up.  Extending purposeful gestures of kindness in thought, word or deed demonstrates respect, speaks volumes about you while forging personal connections and engendering good will.

Thoughtfulness is that je ne sais quoi rare, intangible quality of unusual dignity that requires discipline and sometimes restraint.  Demonstrating kindness day in and day out to neutralize the dismal things and dreary people that threaten to drag you down makes a difference.  Be a person of true substance – in heart and mind - at home, school and work.  Opportunities abound at every turn.

Make others - both plain and privileged and at all levels, feel valued.  Make it about them.  Shift the spotlight.  Pay it forward… buy them a coffee or pay their toll… it always comes back to you.  Hand-written notes, limericks, photos, even wearing something special to acknowledge another is thoughtful. Extend a compliment.  Ask genuinely how someone is feeling.  Learn, use and remember others’ personal preferences - their favorite musical, flower, color, restaurant, author… cocktail! 

Personalize everything you do.  Be a positive force at work and in your travels and orchestrate positive, thoughtful actions.  Your efforts will be manifest in a positive work environment and heightened morale! 

*Be sure to acknowledge the kindness with an email, card or note; use your personal stationery. 

Today, more than ever before, employees want to feel appreciated, supported, involved.  Tell others you appreciate them. Build a sense of community and team spirit and acknowledge contributions.  Explore common interests and synergies.  When colleagues demonstrate support, camaraderie and concern for the well-being of others, their self-worth, team spirit and sense of community are reinforced.

  • Say a simple “thank-you”.

  • Send an e-card or note recognizing performance.

  • Give credit to those who have introduced great ideas, shown innovation, completed special projects.

  • Provide public positive reinforcement.

  • Read letters, notes, accolades at company meetings to recognize achievements.

Thoughtfulness is contagious, always appreciated and does come back to you.  Being thoughtful and actionable is a necessity today.  We have a responsibility to step up, to help restore and re-engage the rules of social conduct by extending purposeful acts of kindness.  Try it.  Watch the results in terms of quality work performance, team camaraderie and personal connections.  Extend yourself in selfless ways and bask in good feelings of positive results knowing you helped make a part of another person’s day better.  

 

June 10, 2019

Most of us spend more time at work with co-workers than our own family and good friends and yet, work colleagues are typically the last people we tend to recognize.

Question: What do you believe is the single biggest motivator of people in business? Money? Trips and cars? Raises? Promotions/job titles? While these can be helpful, the fact is, the single most meaningful form of motivation is being acknowledged, feeling appreciated for our work as valuable. While this element is a basic human need, yet surveys show the workforce is typically the last place we encounter even a simple “thank you”.

Interestingly, in high context cultures such as China and Japan, the word “thank you” (shi shi) is never said enough! Not surprisingly, when people are acknowledged for their good work and thanked for contribution/s they are found to be 50% more effective … and we know China has a very robust economy!

Simply saying “thank you” triggers the “happy hormone” dopamine which stimulates the brain and tells the brain you are happy, motivating you to do more, to experience more happiness - while at the same time, makes others more likely to help again in the future as you are quietly ingratiating yourself to them.

For example, when we thank someone for their time now, they are more likely to be generous with their time, later. Further, being generous with our time makes us feel like we actually have more time. People who give their ‘time’ feel more useful, capable, confident and effective which enhances their own productivity.

Offer your help.

Extend a compliment.

Offer unexpected praise.

Give someone a smile.

Give a gift of appreciation for no particular reason at all.

Acknowledge others.

Publicity acknowledge others who helped you get to a pivotal moment.

Thank those behind the scenes and show them their work is seen.

Write a thank you note.

Personal relationships are intrinsic to business, community and family bonds. The individuals we encounter every day are not there by chance. These people are there to help us weather our storms, help sharpen and shape us. I can tell you that my greatest growth has come from challenging times and those people who have linked arms with me and held me accountable. We are better together and meant to work together, respect each other and treat each other with appreciation, dignity, caring and kindness.

Everyone falls, and when we do, others are there to help us stand. To lead a successful life, you need to realize those people who are important and those with whom you feel are worth developing strong relationships. Make special note of those who are smarter, more accomplished, … more positive! Always play up in life and strive to develop strong relationships and form a community. It’s as much about what you give as what you receive.

Reach out of the ‘self’ zone and consciously acknowledge and encourage others daily. In doing so, you yourself become encouraged. Studies show we are our happiest – not when we get a gift or go on vacation, however, our emotional happiness is tied in to when we are helpful. Being helpful gives us the greatest sense of happiness. In fact, they call it, “Helpful High,” a euphoric feeling. Look around and you will see people with whom you want to invest and be a part of your life. We can all help sharpen and shape each other.

There is a wonderful story about the redwood tree in California. These trees grow up to 350 feet. What is interesting is their roots are very shallow, only about five and one half (5 ½) feet underground. One would think that with their extraordinary height they would require extremely deep roots. Interestingly, the redwood tree’s roots do not grow deep, they find the other trees’ roots and begin to intermingle their roots and in so doing, find nutrition with one another, as their roots are so intermingled, they hold each other up. In fact, a tree in the middle of all those trees can die of old age and still stand for hundreds of years because it is so intermingled with the other trees. By finding its strength from being interwoven with the other trees and their roots, blowing winds, torrential rains and severe drought will never threaten their stability.

If we could be as united in our lives as the redwood trees, I believe we could withstand and weather any storm or drought because we are not only helping hold one another up, we are giving nourishment and strength to one another. Why not reach out to others, commingle your roots and give the gift of your appreciation, time, energy and strength. You will make a difference in another person’s day or perhaps even their life. When you entwine your life with someone else and you invest in them, I believe that’s when you will stand strong, get ‘high’ and be able to withstand the storms of this life.

January 21, 2019

Moving boldly and swiftly into another year of our Millennium, who would have dreamt that the enormous challenges our country would confront – in addition to man-made and natural disasters and imminent global dangers - would include a threat to the very core of our culture:  civility.

Road rage, bullying … politics and polarization are real and rampant.  Disrespecting another person’s opinion and shouting them down because they don't agree is downright rude.  … and it’s easy to be rude and hurtful hiding behind your key board or the wheel of your car blasting your horn uttering profanities.  It is also cowardly. 

Being kind requires forethought and effort.  Acknowledging others, listening and understanding are skills requiring élan, sensitivity and finesse.  When we acknowledge others, show thoughtfulness or extend a gesture of kindness, however small, this serves as a stimulant (for them) and a lubricant (for us) as the “happy hormone” dopamine is released.  Ergo:  doing good (for others) also makes us feel good … and it does not take much to make another person smile - - a kind word, a fleeting glance ! … will lift another’s spirits, change their outlook and maybe make a difference in another person’s entire day.

We live in an uncertain world where multitasking and fleeting communication are the rule which places unprecedented pressures on individuals and professionals at all levels.  Ironically, despite the most amazing high technological advances designed to connect us, we have never been more disconnected.  “Virtual reality” is not real.  Electronic devices are tools in place to support our thoughts and actions not define them.  The fact is people do not know how to effectively communicate today and, in our unquenchable need to be connected, bedazzled, exceed barriers and limits and experience unprecedented thrills and speed, people are missing out on getting a fundamental human need:  to be acknowledged.  The intentional practice of acknowledging others through interpersonal communication and being “fully present” is rare and worse, has become a lost art.

There is a better version of ourselves within each of us.  Coming face-to-face with another person enables a direct understanding that people are capable of a deeper connection.  When others experience our presence, feel our sincerity, positive energy and caring, they feel acknowledged and trust that we truly value them. 

Why not look up from your screen, hold a door, smile at a random person, give an unexpected compliment, make random conversation with a perfect stranger.  Being considerate and respectful toward others is a distinctive trait and one reflective of our best selves … and it’s contagious!  Change starts with small steps and has a ripple effect… to change the world.

They say, "when a dove flaps its wings in China, the wind currents shift for thousands of miles across mountains and seas,” which is just a poetic way of saying that everything we do has a ripple effect and that we are all inter-connected. 

We here in America have felt the ripple effects and have a responsibility to fiercely guard and protect our free society, and look out for each other, and future generations. This begins with showing respect – and listening - - even though we may not agree – with our parents, our elders, our president; agree to respectfully disagree.

World peace begins at home and finding peace and acceptance within ourselves, our own families, friends, and in our work environment is incumbent upon us. The New Year evokes reflection, resolution and attention to the imminent threat that compromises the core of our culture:  rampant incivility.

We have devolved as a society from the celebrated gatherer/hunter/”community” ethos into a less kind, less respectful even cruel society.

Q:  Can we teach kindness, respect, character? Q:  Can we evolve back into being a kinder, gentler, more compassionate society?

Yes.  Everything in life is cyclical.  We can condition the brain to practice kind as part of the brain is empathy and compassion.  Kindness is synonymous with character and we can intentionally work to change our behavior and consciously extend the intentional practice of kindness. 

Our nation was built on principles where a promise with a handshake or one’s word was good enough.  Let’s consider a return to some basics which are easily attainable yet, need to be practiced every day in order to become part of you and your authentic self.  Start by being a better friend, partner, neighbor, co-worker and endeavor to comport yourself as your “best self.” 

·        Acknowledge others

·        think before speaking and acting

·        dress appropriately

·        give them your full attention

·        listen

·        be “fully present”

·        endeavor to understand

·        sympathize

… do the unexpected.

Things like thank you notes and host responsibilities seem so insignificant in the big picture, yet, ironically, the world is still all about respect, consideration and appreciation of each other in our daily lives. The New Year evokes reflection, resolution and attention to the core of our humanity.   

We all conduct ourselves in relationships with others however, the most important relationship is the one we have with ourselves. There is a better version of ourselves in each of us.  I have seen first-hand how our behavior directly affects others within organizations at every turn for the past 25 years. 

In today's world, boundaries and promises once taken for granted, have been broken. Going forward, we realize, we can take nothing for granted. Entering yet another New Year imminently filled with challenge, our promise and commitment to help make this world better for ourselves and our local and cross-cultural neighbors has only been reinforced and re- energized. Remember, everything we do has a ripple effect and we are all inter-connected.  We can't take anyone or anything for granted,  especially each other.

May 20, 2018

First Impressions

They say, “you never get a second chance to make a great First Impression!”  Getting it right the first time cannot be over stated.  How we conduct ourselves from the first handshake and the first “hello” helps determine the depth and direction of a future relationship and personal rapport.  When we demonstrate more respect, listen more attentively, communicate more effectively we are more resilient and flexible in a world where others notice which reflects positively on you.

Demonstrating simple gestures of respect and acknowledging others goes a long way in terms of advancing relationships while distinguishing ourselves from fierce global business competition which is the rule today.

Why Manners Matter

Nothing indicates good breeding as much as proper manners… and from a purely business perspective, the facts are: 

-          people do business with people they like and trust.

-          employers assume book knowledge, technical skills and business acumen are in place and eagerly seek out and hire those who possess the elusive "it" factor.  

Given the ranking quotient for interpersonal relationships and “people skills” socially, together with the call for business Leadership these days, this is not only ironic but ill-fated.

As critical interpersonal communication skills are quickly fading from our landscape, families, schools and companies have a unique opportunity to respond to a fundamental need and play a central role in teaching and reinforcing time-honored manners, everyday etiquette and business protocols and to define acceptable versus completely unacceptable codes of conduct and correct behavior.  Moreover, families, schools and companies have a responsibility to help influence and shape leaders of the next generation.  

While we may live in the moment we must not lose sight of the fact that in order to be fully effective we need to be fully present in the moment with other people.   The way we conduct ourselves every day, and the way we treat others is noticed and judged.  In fact, others notice more when what we are doing is NOT right.  

Story

The Cirque De Soleil performance of Odysseus was playing in Boston recently.  The show features among other things, 58 male horses including Lipizzon stallions, Apolossa’s, and more.  There was one beautifully choreographed vignette where teams of three and four magnificent horses were parading in unison around the stage in a figure-eight, with women standing, - one foot on each horse - quite a feat!  The symmetry and artistry were flawless and the riders were perfectly in sync.  This scene was stately, majestic, captivating.  However, through all of this pageantry, I noticed one horse off to the left who would not conform.  One horse decided to lie down, put his head on the sand on stage and watch his comrade horses perform.  Soon, all audience eyes were on the one horse who would not perform, who was not doing it right.  Hence, during this marvelous, masterful, magnificent scene, the audience was actually laughing!  As it turns out, what appeared to be an arbitrary act of fate was in fact, part of a well-thought out well-choreographed performance. Producers capitalized on the fact that we all do notice when others don’t get it right, played to the audience and worked this right into this scene.

We can learn from this exploit!  Others notice when we don’t get it right. 

 

November 16, 2017

Choosing Positive Words

Rudyard Kipling said, "Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind."  Words can change everything in a split second.  Words can change our thoughts, our hearts, our minds, our world – and even others’ worlds. 

Words can inspire, encourage, and motivate.  The words we use can determine our destiny.  The words we say are what we hear about ourselves, affect our self-image and alter our course. If we hear it, we think it, our brain believes it and we act upon it. 

You may have seen the video that went viral of the blind man sitting on the pavement begging for spare change collecting only meager amounts when a Good Samaritan came along and changed the message on his sign.  The words on the blind man’s sign changed from:  “spare change?” to:  “It’s a beautiful day but I can’t see it.”  When people read the new words, the homeless man’s fortunes changed.

 Think of your words as an echo.  Whatever you put out will come back to you.  Whatever follows “I am ______ (i.e. tired, unlucky, etc.) will come back looking for you.

Thoughts, both positive and negative become the conduit to the “I am” phrase.  When we say (and thereby hear) the words we invite those qualities in.  When we constantly talk about negativity, lack defeat, our own words will pave the way for defeat, failure.

When I say, “I am so tired,” I actually get more tired.  To change course, I won’t necessarily say “I feel fabulous” (when I don’t) – however, “I will be refreshed soon” or “I m looking forward to getting my second wind,” might work.

Listen to the difference in these few words:

“What do you want?” vs “How may I help you?”

“Look on my website” vs “Let me take this opportunity to answer that for you.”

“Let’s meet and talk ” vs  “I’d like to get together to explore ideas.”

 “Sorry” vs “Please accept my apology”

At Disney stores worldwide, good buyers are called “Guests” and potential trouble makers or shoplifters are called “Customers.”  This is helpful when staff need to point out someone difficult to the store manager or security. They simply say, “A customer here needs help!” directing them to the potentially problematic “customer.” 

Choose to be a positive force and positively influence others at work and in life.  Choose words and phrases which are positive and provocative, appreciative, respectful.  Consciously program positive thoughts and use positive, assumptive words to discipline your thoughts and change the direction of your life.  Make You masters of your destiny and chose words to positively influence, motivate and respect others.

August 8, 2017

Small Talk

You are at the dining table having a spirited discussion with the person on your left however, the person on your right is not responding and appears bored or disinterested.

You are walking from the reception area to their office or meeting room, going up the elevator … 36 floors (!) with your host who says nothing. 

Silence may be “golden” … or deafening!

SMALL TALK.  Small talk is a really inappropriate expression for something that should be called the complete opposite:  “big talk” “huge talk” or “really important talk” because it is the ice breaker which helps break barriers that retard building rapport and advancing interpersonal relationships. This seemingly ordinary, everyday ritual of making small talk – especially with perfect strangers, can be daunting and a challenge only for the unpracticed.  Small Talk is truly an art and a skill you can use to positively influence and jump-start new relationships.  However, you need to practice every day in order to become proficient, and have savvy small talk become part of you and your savvy authentic self.

The seemingly inconsequential ordinary gesture of making Small Talk is analogous to the prelude before a performance or the preface of a book…   It is the set-up for what we hope will be a seamless transition into meaningful business discussions.  The misleading term utterly misrepresents its undulating power.  Small talk should be acknowledged for the singular opportunity it holds to adroitly manipulate … in all good ways(!) people and situations to your advantage.  In fact, not accessing competent small talk can limit you and be detrimental in business.

When you take the time and make the effort to hone your small talk skills you will be richly rewarded as you experience the confidence in knowing you are not only helping place others at ease and making them feel special, you are at the same time, kindling the trust factor that spark relationships while quietly, yet most assuredly distinguishing yourself.  The act of tactfully engaging others and the ability to artfully draw out the best in others to create more meaningful connections and advance careers cannot be overstated.

When you initiate the small talk this accomplishes three important tasks:

1.          keeps you in the Control position. 

2.          takes the burden off you to speak first.

3.          affords you the opportunity to hear the other person speak (first) thereby acquiring valuable               information. 

Information derived from listening to their voice including tone, inflections, words they use, grammar, diction, etc., permits you to get a sense of their inner emotions such as nervousness, boredom, trepidation, … allowing you to ultimately adjust your own behavioral style and adapt to ultimately connect.

As for topics, anything out - in plain view or even outdoors is fair game for small talk such as awards and plaques which further convey valuable information about the other person you can use to help advance your goals.  The weather is rich in content, as is your recent flight, traffic, directions, their gorgeous gardens… the beautiful artwork, the new construction (!)  … Sports are also safe topics however, sports teams are only a part of it.  You may notice a sports watch or anything in their office revealing an avid golfer, yachtsman, runner, etc.  It is absolutely appropriate to ask questions and make comments to enhance personal knowledge and advance relationships.  However, be careful with your questions and comments…(!)

It is interesting to note that in High Context Cultures such as Asia and South America, business is never discussed or conducted during the first few meetings which include primarily of the company of family and close friends.  Small talk and random conversation about anything other than business is the rule as meetings are focused exclusively on evaluating others to develop the critical trust factor simply required to conduct business in High Context Cultures. 

Whereas an important characteristic of Low Context Cultures here in America for example, is the aspect of time, and, as the very American saying goes, “time is money!”  Inherent in our genetic make-up is the urge to eliminate small talk and quickly get down to business at hand.

Understanding cultural nuances and the importance small talk plays in advancing personal rapport is integral to successfully competing in our global economy.  Do your research and be prepared in any cultural environment where you hope to conduct future business.

Practicing engaging others will help you hone this brilliant skill, make others feel acknowledged, may even help brighten another person’s day ultimately, making you feel pretty good, too!  Extending a random greeting, unexpected comment or compliment prompting a reply and perhaps even leading to further dialogue is ultimately energizing for everyone.

In Conclusion:  Making something from nothing is an art and takes work … and changing what might otherwise be a non-eventful experience standing in the elevator or waiting for your latte, has the potential to be quickly altered into a memorable event or transformed into an enchanting experience while perhaps acquiring a significant new relationship along the way! 

Making others feel acknowledged and valued and is a skill anyone can learn however, requires practice to cultivate and refine.  Therefore, do practice every day until it becomes a part of who you are and your personal style.  You will become more confident, engaging, energizing and attractive to others, and ultimately, more effective when this matters most in business.