Civility & Safety

What to do

You can make progress on improving civility and psychological safety through your one-on-one encounters with people at work. Taking A Moment of Reflection suggests an approach. A more ambitious approach is a group project, such as CREW.

Taking a Moment of Reflection

Change is always hard. Changing the way people talk with one another has its special challenges. One is the power of reciprocity.

When things are going well, reciprocity is a force for good.

You say something kind to a colleague; the response is pleasant in return. A history of kind exchanges inspires a warm feeling towards someone. Before you say a word, you’re inclined to say something nice.

When things are going badly reciprocity becomes a roadblock. Hurtful remarks inspire the cutting responses. A history of unpleasant interactions leads people to expect more of the same. People hear criticism in comments that would be judged objectively as neutral.

So, when relationships get going in one direction or another, the momentum is towards more of the same.

Breaking that cycle requires a moment of reflection at the very least. It takes a moment of tranquility to get beyond a reflex response. Creating that moment is tough. It’s much easier to go along with the momentum than to turn the tide of the conversation.

Part of the power of the CREW process is that it makes creating that moment a mission that you share with others. When it comes to relationships, you’re not on your own, by definition. So, it makes sense to share the goal of building a better workplace community.

Addressing Civility as a Group Project: CREW

A lot of our work has been helping groups address civility as a shared issue.

Rather than being content with blaming bad behavior on a few difficult people or bullies, the group approach approaches workplace incivility as a shared problem calling for shared action. The approach is called CREW: Civility, Respect, and Engagement at Work.

To be effective on an organizational level, CREW has a clear structure that begins with diagnosis and moves to assessment to determine progress. The CREW approach works through regular meetings among colleagues. Facilitators bring a structure to these meetings, drawing from a toolkit of exercises and discussion topics. Facilitators receive coaching along the way from Companions who have extensive experience in the CREW approach.

This approach puts working relationships on the agenda as a topic for discussion rather than something that people complain about after the fact. The challenge in doing CREW is establishing widespread agreement among the group to address their civility issues. The power of CREW comes from integrating the efforts of people.

Creating a Psychologically Safe Work Environment

Improving psychological safety works best as a project shared by the group leader with members. The leader has an important role in employees’ decisions of whether they can raise difficult issues at work or whether they’re better off keeping their mouths shut.

The leader can be instrumental in making explicit statements that encourage people to present challenging ideas. Even more important is the leader’s reaction after someone has put a dicey topic on the table. Maintaining an accepting point of view can be tough when the discussion seems to criticize leadership for slipping up in some way. Keeping open, honest conversation going in team meetings is a serious test of leadership.

Team members have a big responsibility in these situations as well. Sometimes is can be difficult to come up with the right words to support a colleague. It’s a fine line to talk in a way that keeps the discussion moving along towards a constructive resolution. But sitting quietly can have a discouraging impact all around.

The important point for psychological safety is that building a work environment where people can speak frankly and take risks with confidence is a shared responsibility of everyone in a workgroup.


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