One of the many casualties of the “Information Age” has been the way that people treat each other in business. With the increased pace of change and the development of new information technologies, people have new resources, more information, but less time to develop and promote interpersonal relationships. There are fewer and fewer face to face meetings. Curt e-mails are now the method of choice in communication and we are drowning in a sea of unnecessary e-mails because it is so easy to “cc” or “Bcc” everyone on your e-mail list. Too much information can be a waste of time.
In the early 1980’s, the media began to change. Television reflected the politics of the time with less interest in the human condition and more emphasis on ideologies that valued financial success at any cost. The “me first” mentality has been an outgrowth of this way of thinking. Do you remember when drivers actually waited their turn at intersections and the words like: “road rage, ” “air rage, ” and “going postal” were not yet common in our language? To keep pace with our new high speed technology and the globalization of business, we now worship daily at the church called, “the Holy Redeemer of the Expresso Drink. ” Where would we be without our favorite coffee communion? Even the evening news, now 24/7, has 3 sources of new information on the screen. Besides the talking head, there are graphics and then the text that flows along the bottom of the screen. Overwhelm and confusion are common.
It is no wonder that workers are not loyal to their companies. Or is it that the companies are no longer loyal to their personnel, especially the employees who may become vested and might retire within a few years. Down sizing, outsourcing, and sending jobs overseas have become the way that business honors any remaining sense of loyalty. Have you noticed more off-shoring of jobs and finances? Have you noticed a lack of ethical practices in corporations, in government, in our political parties, in our “talk show” hosts, even in our religious leaders? These are the obvious signs of a world where common decency, respect and civility are considered weaknesses rather than respected qualities in leadership.
I believe that we as a civilization have not been able to adjust to the pace of change in our world. When stressed, we can begin to behave like ego-centric, immature children… “Me First. ” Dam the people of Darfur! To hell with the atmosphere, controlling pollution costs too much! Who cares about the deficit, our children can deal with it? I do not want to pay any taxes because I am “entitled” to my services, my security, my education, my gas guzzling vehicles, my 4,000 square foot house, and my illegal, low cost domestic help. Just don’t make me stand in line. Don’t tell me to turn off my cell phone, especially when I am wasting my time driving, or sitting in a movie, or going to church, or…. We do not have any down time to decompress, or to have the daily visit and check-in with the family. It seems that it is no longer socially acceptable to have a vacation where we just sit by the water with a beer in our hand and watch the clouds roll by.
We are not “civil” to our kids, our spouse, our parents, our pets, and certainly not to the people who wait on us in a shop or at a restaurant. We do not have time to get to know our neighbors, our children’s teachers, our co-workers, the policeman on the “beat, ” or the people stuck in the “commute” with us. We watch TV or play video games, but engage less in communication with people in our environment. It seems weird to us when someone, we do not know, strikes up a conversation with us in the elevator. We know more about the current world disaster that the media shoves down our throat than we know about the needy single parent families in our community.
We demand respect, but do not offer any. We feel slighted when someone does not agree with our belief, philosophy, dogma, religion, political opinion, or questionable comment or joke. We are polarized and there is no grey area. We do not know how to negotiate a mutually beneficial compromise. We do not know how to tolerate people who are different. We do know how to build walls and how to blame others and to not share responsibility when things do not go as planned. I find times when my behavior is not a shining example of civility. There are times when I am impatient when waiting in a checkout line. Driving in traffic is not fun especially when I believe that I am in a hurry. My “type A” personality wants to finish sentences for people when they are trying to communicate a frustrating concept. I am aware of my impatience and I will try to be polite. Yet I realize that I can be annoying, intense, and sometimes difficult. This not the type of positive role modeling that I am preaching. There are no excuses for my impatience though I realize that when I am stressed and have not been taking “good” care of myself, these negative behaviors are closer to the surface. When I am not a “victim” to my stress and anxiety, I can be more productive and a much more civil person in the world.
Recently, I attended a communication workshop that was led by a wonderful trainer and coach, Michael Buschmohle. He offered a technique that I believe to be powerful and very practical. It is designed to create a better connection in communication and can often lead to better outcomes. Michael said that making eye contact is a key ingredient to improving the connection. He suggests that you look for your communications partner’s eye color. If you look this closely, it demonstrates that you care about your communication.
I suggest that you try to catch your children, your partner, or your co-workers doing something “right” or good and then appreciate their effort. With your kids, give them an extra hug and show them how important they are to you and to the world. Help them with their homework. Show them that you care about their education even if you have to make time to do this because there is nothing more important or as high as a priority as taking an interest in a child’s education and their development.
When it comes to appreciation, those who volunteer should be thanked. These people often do not ask for thanks because their rewards can come from the satisfaction of their activities, but honoring these people can help perpetuate civility and additional “random acts of kindness. ” Appreciate the people who take time to volunteer with the projects our world creates. I am thinking of the people who went to Mississippi and Louisiana to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. I am thinking of the neighbors who check in on their elderly neighbors. I am thinking of the people who volunteer to spend time visiting or tutoring disadvantaged or educationally challenged children. Help past president Jimmy Carter or your local Habitat for Humanity build a home in your community.
The world is getting smaller. We need to learn how to get along better or we will ride the future of our planet into oblivion. Unless we take better care of our world and our neighbors, we won’t have either and we can not make it on our own self-reliance any longer.
Practice civility. Teach it to your children. Care about each other. And, do not become a victim by getting caught up in our impersonal technologies. If you are at a loss on what to do, watch the sun set or sit by a river or take time to watch the clouds blow by…
L. John Mason, Ph. D. is the author of the best selling “Guide to Stress Reduction. " Since 1977, he has offered Executive Coaching and Training.
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