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Rude Awakenings: Overcoming the Civility Crisis in the Workplace by Giovinella Gonthier


Rating: (Read only if your interest is strong)


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Excuse Me

It could be the sheltered life we lead in the civil workplace at Hopkins & Company. After all, we take time out for afternoon tea. We all work flexible hours. We are consistently polite and courteous. Somewhere along the line we didn’t get the memo that announced there’s a civility crisis in the workplace. Thanks to a new book by Giovinella Gonthier called, Rude Awakenings, we, too, have been awakened to this crisis, and have learned more about it than we thought we needed to know. I found no fault at all with her list of the 10 reasons why we behave uncivilly (p. 12):

Ten Reasons Why We Behave Uncivilly

1.     We’re working ourselves ragged just so we can buy too many things we really don’t need.

2.     We often put up with outrageously bad behavior by financially successful people and then feel compelled to make excuses for them.

3.     Many of the people we work with every day were raised with little training about manners.

4.     When our employers tried such experiments as “casual dress,” they failed to formulate guidelines or think through the effects.

5.     Too many people see common courtesy as behavior that perpetuates inequality, failing to see that civility is simply being kind to one another.

6.     Our urban communities are inhumanely dense and our commutes to work often horrific.

7.     Young people today enter the work world from families and schools that increasingly fail to set and enforce rules and limits about behavior.

8.     A frightening number of our neighbors are feeling so alienated, isolated, and anonymous that they can be rude with no remorse or fear of reciprocation.

9.     There’s little fairness and loyalty left in today’s highly transient workplace.

10. Rather than improve our work lives, technology has stripped us of support services, dehumanized the workplace, and plugged us in around the clock.

If you are experiencing a lack of civility in your workplace, Rude Awakenings has some practical solutions for you to make improvements. Here’s some advice about those uncivilly long voice mail messages that drive you crazy, for example (pp. 74-76):

Problem:  Long, convoluted voice mails

Solution: Voice mail is designed for brief messages-generally, about 30 seconds or less. Just tell the recipient what you need when you need it and sign off (remembering, of course to slowly and distinctly leave your name and phone number, repeating the number). Longer and more involved messages should be sent by e-mail, unless the sender has a disability that prevents typing. (In that case, the disability should be mentioned at the start of the voice-mail message.)

Problem: Not returning voice mail

Solution: Voice mail should be returned within 48 hours. Not returning someone's call is tantamount to standing up that person. It is unbecoming and inexcusable and marks you as uncaring, disorganized, and rude.

If you are going to be out of your office for a while, leave a recorded message to that effect. If you find yourself perpetually behind in returning calls because of time management issues, seek help. If you do not want to talk to the caller at the moment, then ask someone else to return the call for you.

Voice mail messages sometimes do get lost, so give the person you called the benefit of the doubt and feel free to repeat a call that has not been returned after three days. You will learn who is responsible about returning calls and who is not. My advice is never go into business with someone who does not return calls on a timely basis—it's too risky! And try not to choose such a person for your team at the office or for your volunteer committee.

Problem: Hiding behind voice mail

Solution: Calling after hours, during lunch, or at some other time when you know the person you are telephoning will be out of the office is all too commonly practiced by those late with a report, embarrassed over an unpleasant exchange earlier in the day, or leery of talking directly to a superior (it's an approach associates in law firms are notorious for employing to dodge partners).


In fact, all of us are tempted on occasion to hide behind voice mail—while we finish a project on deadline or cool off after a misunderstanding. But if this becomes a habit, you should be concerned.

The bottom line is that hiding behind voice mail is cowardly and will only make a bad situation worse. If you have a problem with someone, go to the individual's office and try to sort it out in person. If you are being bullied, abused, or harassed, go to the Human Resources department. If you are late with a report or a brief, call during normal business hours and explain the circumstances.

It is just as cowardly for large organizations to hide behind voice mail as it is for individuals to do so. Some companies make it especially difficult and irritating for customers to resolve problems and confound access to human customer-service representatives. You keep having to "press 2" for a solution and then are asked to "press 3" for other options that go on ad infinitum. You never get to a human being, and your problem remains unsolved. Many large phone companies, Internet service providers, and banks are notorious for using this poor customer-relations tactic.

Cell Phones

The Whole World Is Listening

Problem; Unnecessary, inappropriate, and disruptive use in public

Solution: Please turn off your cell phone while in such common areas as lobbies, corridors, rest rooms, or the office cafeteria, and while visiting someone else's office or at a lecture, luncheon, meeting, or training session. Extend your considerate behavior beyond the office to such places as the movie house, theater, restaurant, house of worship, classroom, or hotel public space, as well as on the sidewalk or on a bus, train, or plane.

Use a cell phone in public only for an emergency. If you expect a critical call, turn your phone to the vibrate mode, then leave the public space to take the call, if at all possible, or speak in a soft voice to avoid disturbing anyone else. Respect others’ rights not to hear your conversation. Negotiating a business deal in public is strategically inadvisable anyway. Shouting out instructions to your broker while on a train draws unwanted attention to your portfolio and sets you up for potential fraud. Planning tonight’s menu or rehashing last night’s date in public is simply boorish.

The most egregious violation of cell phone usage in public that I have heard of in my practice was someone receiving a call on his cell during the funeral service of a colleague. And he took the call!

If you’re looking for practical advice like the above, then Rude Awakenings is certainly for you. Most of us either think we don’t need such advice, or aren’t looking for it. We may receive this book as a gift. I found the Sprint ethics quick-test to be valuable. Here it is (p.145):

Sprint’s Ethics Quick Test

Sprint values integrity, and wants to maintain its reputation for doing the right thing. If you’re ever in a situation where the right thing is unclear or doing the right thing is difficult, examine your options with the Ethics Test:

·        Could it harm Sprint’s reputation?

·        Is it ethical and legal?

·        What would my family and friends say?

·        How would it look in the newspaper?

·        Would I bet my job on it?

·        Should I check?

·        How would my action appear to others?

I wonder if the Sprint executives who signed up with Ernst & Young’s plan for tax avoidance thought about these questions first.

Readers who don’t think there’s a civility crisis in society or the workplace have no reason at all to read Rude Awakenings. Readers who think there are bigger crises that cause greater concern will want to take a pass.

Steve Hopkins, February 27, 2002


ă 2003 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the March 2003 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: Awakenings.htm


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