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Civility – Take Two Shots and Change the World


Published on: Nov 18, 2016 by Michael SnyderNo comments
improve productivity, cortisol production, stress hormone, be civil
Influence the herd. Start a trend. BE CIVIL.

In just seven seconds, you can initiate change for just about anything. In 30 seconds, you can move mountains. You can improve productivity. You can reset your brand. You can set in motion powerful influence that will touch hundreds, even thousands of people.

You can also demotivate. Kill productivity. Repel others. Whip up a toxic environment.

It’s your choice.

As the author of one of the standard works on influence once wrote, ““Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.”

Our society was once generally known for its positive civility (taken from the larger noun, civilization, which means “an advanced state of human society, as by bringing out of a savage, uneducated or unrefined state”).  Today’s overheated political and social environment happily embraces a decidedly different approach. Snarky resentment and incredulous self-righteousness often appear to be the “New Normal.” In business and social settings, unrestrained sarcasm is the “go-to” dialect matched up with a liberal dose of dripping cynicism.  And that’s not counting the twisted facial expressions that punctuate skeptical receipt of the latest perceived faux pas. Together it all makes for a herd-driven tidal wave of very bad brain chemistry.

Common? Yes.

There is, of course, a terrible cost associated with all of this.

As the Harvard Business Review points out, the price of rude business behavior carves major chunks out of the bottom line.  How?

  • Creativity and productivity drop when people feel disrespected
  • Customers tell 3,000 people just how bad you are (Nielsen Online)
  • Brands suffer, even hemorrhage
  • Productivity- and energy-sapping retaliation is common
  • Key employees – the ones you can’t do without – get fed up and leave
  • People “reward” their superiors with intentionally bad or incomplete work
  • Avoidance behavior skyrockets
  • The bottom line starts slipping for inexplicable reasons, even if the company has great products

The biggest issue of all? If we choose to be uncivil, or are forced to co-exist with rude, uncivil behavior, our brain chemistry can head south in a very bad way. Simon Sinek calls the main negative “The Big C.” C here stands for the steroid hormone cortisol. When we are threatened (real or perceived), our bodies instantly stimulate our adrenal glands to manufacture and flood our bodies with cortisol. The immediate response is accelerated metabolism, heightened blood pressure and a “fight or flight” stance.

We can inadvertently trigger cortisol production by reading stressful e-mails after rolling out of bed. Sarcastic comments and insulting behavior produce cortisol.  Many commonly accepted behaviors are thinly veiled killers.

Cortisol-fueled behavior is contagious. A stressed out, cortisol-pumped co-worker terrifies the herd. More cortisol is produced. The productivity of the herd plummets. And flees. Or calls in sick.

Labeling it “the stress hormone,” Psychology Today calls cortisol “Public Enemy No. 1.”

The presence of cortisol produces feelings of anxiety. The more anxious we feel, the more cortisol is produced to “help” us flee. The more cortisol, the more anxiety. The more anxiety, the more cortisol.

Life in a pool of cortisol is vicious. Prolonged cortisol production lowers our immune system’s capacity to work properly. Wounds heal more slowly. Cortisol-drenched brains can’t sleep. They reach for medication or alcohol for relief.

Remember, we deliberately choose this way of life. Cortisol production and sarcasm are best friends. There’s a reason that sarcasm (which often reflects feelings of unresolved resentment) is described as “anger in rehearsal.”

So what’s my point? The vast majority of productivity losses, managed human behavior, organizational upheaval and the like are directly related to the decline in overall civility.

And let’s be clear. We’re not talking about “Pollyanna do-goers” (which, ironically, are not all that bad an idea).

We’re talking about respect. We’re talking about kindness. We’re talking about simple politeness. We’re talking about character.

Sara Hacala, author of Saving Civility, summed it up: “There is nothing productive about incivility, and the costs to us—individually, economically, and as a society—are astronomical.”

So what about you? Want to change the world?

Consider this remarkable fact. Our world is governed by what two researchers found to be the “Three Degrees of Influence Rule.” As they stated in their book Connected, “we influence and are influenced by people up to three degrees removed from us, most of whom we do not even know.”

So here’s the rub: don’t like these feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation? Don’t like how polarized we’ve become?

Influence the herd. Start a trend. BE CIVIL.

It’s that simple. But simultaneously (and perhaps paradoxically) it can be hard to do.

Once we’ve programmed ourselves – or probably better put, allowed ourselves to be programmed – to be sarcastic and snarky, it can become new pathways in our neutral nets.

So it will take effort.

But here’s the good news. Being civil has an immediate payoff.

When you treat people nicely, they often respond in kind. Suddenly, beginning with one person coming to his or her senses, the herd takes on a new emotional hue. It becomes attractive. It becomes more productive. It becomes fun. And surprisingly resilient.

Being civil promotes a very positive change in brain chemistry.  Google these words and see for yourself: Oxytocin. Serotonin. Endorphins.

Like its counterpart, civility is contagious.

Being a civil leader is especially contagious. As a leader, you give permission to be nice.  As a leader, you give people permission to reject uncivil or rude behavior. You yourself model positive civility and call out destructive resentment. Your bottom line – both personally and organizationally – improves.

So what are you waiting for? What are two kind things – two shots of civility – that you can practice right now?

As an ancient golden rule remarkably records, “Do unto others as you have them do unto you.”

So take two shots of civility and change the world. Today. Now.

–Michael Snyder, Managing Principal, The MEK Group (Want more? E-mail us)


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