Chamber speaker champions civility

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, September 28, 2013

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The only time most of us hear the word “civil,” it’s followed by “war.”

Deborah King of Decatur is politely passionate about changing that.

King, the president of Final Touch Finishing School, spoke at Tuesday’s Decatur Chamber of Commerce luncheon on the topic, “Civility in the Workplace.”

Deborah King

It hit closer to home than most likely thought it would.

“Civility is the foundation everything else is built upon,” she said. “Civility is the heart. Without civility, we just have a lot of rules.”

King is an author and nationally-known speaker on civility, etiquette and image. She gave the lunch crowd a 16-question test on workplace civility awareness and stressed the importance of how we treat people in our business and personal lives.

King can speak with ease about protocol – rigid, formal rules that govern behavior in some settings – and etiquette, less formal, often unwritten rules that adapt to various social situations and different locations.

Civility goes deeper.

“Honestly, who cares what fork you use if you cannot cultivate relationships?” she said. “Who cares if you did a correct handshake if it was just a function and not a heart issue?

“Civility is, do you really value others?”

King said a lack of civility in the workplace costs American businesses hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

“The hidden cost of incivility is seen in reduced employee performance, reduced employee retention, reduced team performance, erosion of corporate culture, customer flight and damaged reputation, and increased workplace stress,” she said.

“Once I can de-value another person and start creating a hierarchy in my mind that one person is better than another, I can act in a way that is going to be uncivil. That is the bottom line.

“Valuing others, seeing other people as having worth and value – that’s what this is about. Do I recognize that every action of mine somehow impacts others, whether I know it or not?”

King cited a restaurant in Dallas that posted on Facebook the names of guests who made reservations, then did not show up or call and cancel. Since it can only seat about 48 people, the impact of no-shows is extremely frustrating for them.

“The people who chose not to show up that night probably didn’t even give it a second thought,” she said. “It’s no big deal. But to people who wanted to get in that night and couldn’t, to the wait staff, who had planned on coming to work and generating income through tips, and to the establishment that lost a huge amount of revenue because of the no-shows – to them, I guarantee you, it was a big deal.”

Not showing up, not calling to cancel, not responding to an RSVP, being late or leaving early – all those are signs of a deeper lack of civility.

“Canceling the reservation would be considered appropriate etiquette or good manners,” King said. “But I really think this whole issue speaks to something far greater in our society today.

“We have become so focused on our personal wants, what makes us feel comfortable, and we view other people almost as puppets in our lives, who just are there to serve us and make sure our lives are happy.

“We don’t break it down in that kind of cold and callous way, but I think that really is a part of it. As a result of that, incivility escalates.”

King cited the book, “The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility is Damaging Your Business” by professors Christine Pearson and Christine Porath. The two began their research looking for the root causes of workplace violence. What they found was a huge incivility problem that impacts almost every workplace, every day.

Extensive surveys over a 10-year period showed:

  • 80 percent believe incivility is a problem.
  • 96 percent experience incivility at work.
  • 60 percent experience stress because of workplace incivility.
  • 80 percent believe they get no respect at work.
  • 48 percent believe they are treated uncivilly at work at least once a week.
  • 75 percent were dissatisfied with the way their companies handled incivility.
  • More than 50 percent say they would have career problems if they reported incivility.

And out of those who were treated in an uncivil manner, 94 percent said they would get even with the offender, and 88 percent said they would get even with the business or the organization.

“How many times do we act in a manner that doesn’t support others, and it has a strong negative ripple effect, and we walk away oblivious?” King asked. “It comes back to, do I really value others? It’s not all about me.

“The truth is, I live in a community where I interconnect with others. How do I conduct myself?”

She told a story about helping an elderly woman load her bags at Wal-Mart – a simple act that only cost her a few minutes in her busy day. The woman invited her to her 91st birthday party.

“Do we really see people, or are we so focused on doing what we do, getting through the day, trying to make budget, trying to make payroll, trying to sell product, trying to provide a service, trying to get dinner done and get the kids from here to there, that we fail to focus on the people around us? Who are we doing life with?”

Just as the “ripple” effects of failure to cancel a reservation impact numerous lives, so the positive ripple effects of grace and courtesy can make people’s day better, she said. In our business and personal lives, she said, we all have an opportunity through civil behavior to make the world a better place.

“When you do that, people will want to work side-by-side with you, and they will want to do business with you.”


1. I take credit for the efforts of others.
2. I check emails, phone messages or text during meetings.
3. I send bad news through email to avoid facing the recipient.
4. I talk down to others.
5. I listen fully and without judgement.
6. I spread rumors about colleagues.
7. I arrive late or leave early for meetings.
8. I make demeaning or derogatory remarks.
9. I withhold important information from those I dislike.
10. I return emails and phone calls promptly.
11. I leave a mess for others to clean up.
12. I shut someone out of a network or team.
13. I value the opinion of others.
14. I act irritated when someone asks for a favor.
15. I avoid those I do not respect.
16. I exhibit a bad attitude.

Answer: Always, Sometimes, Never

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