Wednesday, June 22

Considering Civility: Does It Matter?

customersWeber Shandwick and Powell Tate, in partnership with KRC Research, recently released the results of their second annual "Civility in America" poll, which asked 1,000 American adults to assess attitudes towards civility online, in the workforce, in the classroom, and in politics.

According to the survey, Americans are trending away from uncivil behavior and rude treatment, especially among companies and politicians. Even more compelling, consumers are increasingly likely to share uncivil behavior with an expressed intent to sway others away from the offender.

How Civility Affects Buying, Behavior, And Other Choices.

• 69 percent decided not to purchase from a company after an uncivil experience (up from 56 percent).

• 69 percent re-evaluated their opinion of a company because the tone was uncivil (up from 55 percent).

• 67 percent said that they would not vote for a candidate who they believe is uncivil (new question).

• 58 percent advised friends, etc. not to buy products after a rep was rude or uncivil (up from 49 percent).

• 49 percent have defriended someone on Facebook because their behavior was uncivil (up from 45 percent).

• 38 percent have stopped going to a site after they concluded that the tone was uncivil (no change).

• 27 percent have dropped a community or forum after the tone became less civil (up from 25 percent).

• 20 percent have quit a job because the workplace was uncivil (new question).

• 11 percent have transferred their children to a new school because of uncivility (new question).

The survey also found that more than one-half of Americans believe that civility in America is getting worse (up from 39 percent last year). Workplace leadership is blamed for a decline in civility (65 percent) in the workplace, with most respondents believing their bosses set the wrong tone during the recession. Fellow coworkers aren't far behind, with 59 percent of respondents blaming coworkers for the increase in bad behavior.

Workplace competitiveness and the economy were significantly lower, perhaps signaling that people recognize that uncivil behavior is a personal choice. As a consequence, respondents said that there is a greater need for civility training in the workplace.

civilty"Asked about the civility of social networks, nearly one in two (49 percent) say that they are uncivil, an increase from 2010 (43 percent)," the report states. "However, Americans are much more inclined to name other sources besides social media and the Internet as uncivil — political campaigns, pop culture, media, government, the music industry, and the American public [for example]."

Chris Perry, president of Weber Shandwick Digital Communications, suggested that digital conversations are meant to engage and foster multi-dimensional dialogue rather than demean others or be hurtful. However, the survey indicated that nearly 7 in 10 Americans believe that cyber bullying is getting worse, especially among teens.

Along with growing uncivility in schools, online, and workplaces, a previous study conducted by the firm indicates that politics has become significantly less civil, increasing from 59 percent to 74 percent since 2008.

Discourse over diatribe.

I've always maintained that there is a healthy difference between criticism and cynicism, discourse and diatribe. With either word combination, the difference is that one tends to try to make things better while sticking to the topic; the other tries to tear things down, including the topic, subject, and anything nearby.

Over the last few years, the public (at least in this survey) seems to be recognizing that the difference between the two has all but evaporated. Nowadays, it's not only about winning but also making the other side lose and lose badly. Where some people might improve is taking a more objective view in that both sides (not just the other side) are driving the uncivil attacks.

Personally, I sometimes theorize that politics tends to set the tone of the country. Beyond politics, these same people also set the tone for government, which spills into business leadership and the greater workforce with un-customer-centic leaders creating hostility between employees and the consumers they need to keep the doors open.

But that's only a theory. It's equally true that each of us has a choice of what we engage in, criticism or cynicism, regardless of tone. Communicators are best advised to find the middle ground, listening carefully and thoughtfully to criticism (as opposed to ignoring disagreement as some social media experts have recently adopted) while not falling prey to cynics that will never be satisfied.

Sometimes it's best to let those people vent publicly, because they say more about themselves than your company as long as you remain civil. Because more than any other issue, civility obviously matters.
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