Time is Right for Civility Engineering

Civility rules

I was recently invited to speak at a civil engineers’ conference about the hot topic of #Inclusive Leadership. On my way to the conference, I pondered my connection to the world of civil engineering. I realized how the results of civil engineering were all around me. I began marveling at the landmarks – signs of engineering ingenuity on my way to the conference: the viaduct, bridges, skyscrapers, ferries and even the conference center where I was going to be speaking at. I was in awe.

It occurred to me at that moment that while I’m not a civil engineer, I am a “Civility Engineer”, one who works with behavior “engineering”.  

This insight opened my eyes to see the common ground with these engineers (and yes, they were mostly middle-aged white men) in a new way.

At first, it had seemed to me that because of my humanistic education with a Liberal Arts M.A., I would have nothing in common with the engineering math geniuses. However, at a closer study, and from a more philosophical perspective, one could say that both the civil engineers and I are solving problems with a goal of finding practical solutions. Both of us are driven by curiosity. Curiosity about how things – and people – work.

Both engineers and I are extremely vigilant about #safety. Just as safety at a construction site is of an utmost concern, safety is crucial at meetings where excellence in team performance is called for.  When a safe environment is co-created, it’s much easier to do your best work and to respectfully say what needs to be said.

There are some ways our work profoundly differ, though.

We – engineers and I – account for the human element in our work in different ways. While the civil engineers are creating the “built environment”, I work with human beings’ internal landscape.  The unpredictability of the human nature and behavior can be a challenging aspect of an engineer’s work where accuracy is paramount. For a coach, the variability of human nature is what keeps us in the business!

And this takes me back to the concepts of “civil” and “civility”. Engineers are dedicated, many almost obsessively, to fixing things. Most of them – many of them dear friends – have an impeccable work ethic, and are both reliable and honorable in their actions.  Yet a glaring problem they have not been able to solve persists: a lack of diversity in the engineering professions. Research has revealed that the reason why women leave engineering is due – to a high extent – to the uncivil behaviors that are being tolerated in the cultures of engineering firms. However, knowing that a culture of an organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate, this is a fixable problem. Leaders of these organizations have to acknowledge this and take steps to change this.

The bubble of “incivility” is exploding all around us and the consequences for it are being re-evaluated in workplaces everywhere – whether in media, entertainment, politics or churches.  This is an opportune time for leaders – including leaders of engineering companies – to consciously focus on creating cultures where civility rules. Civility is not about inauthenticity or pretending to be polite. Uncivil behavior leads to violating people’s boundaries, sense of safety and honor. Civility is rooted in respect, graciousness, and ability to listen.

The cultures of civility are good for people and good for business. Cultures where people feel respected and appreciated attract and retain talent. Cultures of civility inspire people to put in an extra bit of effort in their work. When people feel cared for, they care. Simple as that.

And how do you know what people consider civil behavior? You ask, listen and adapt.

So, how about campaigning for civility in your organization? What would be possible if in your organization Aretha Franklin’s call for R.E.S.P.E.C.T was taken seriously?

Please, share what you do to make “civility” the standard in your organization. I’d love to hear from you.

By the way, there will be an opportunity to discuss this face to face is at #GeekwireSummit 2018 – I’ll be attending the booth for #ICF chapter of Washington state on October 2. You can book a complimentary session with a credentialed coach at https://icfwashingtonstate.com/geekwire-summit.

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