Civility means showing people consideration, appreciation, generosity, and trust. It involves being aware of the people around you, and acting with courtesy and kindness.

Dr. P. M. Forni is a professor at Johns Hopkins University, the director of The Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins, and the author of two highly acclaimed books on civility. In his book, “Choosing Civility,” Dr. Forni presents 25 rules of considerate conduct. We asked Dr. Forni to identify the five rules that he thought were the most important. His picks are listed below.

  • Pay attention – Take notice of your surroundings. Consider the feelings and needs of others. If you pay attention to the world and people around you, you’ll be able to react to situations more thoughtfully and effectively.
  • Be inclusive – Expose yourself to ideas that are different from your own. Dare to go beyond your “comfort zone.” Work to understand and accept other peoples’ identities, cultures, languages, histories, and ways of interacting with the world. Help new acquaintances and coworkers to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance.
  • Respect other people’s time – Value other people’s time as much as you value your own. Be punctual. If you need to cancel an appointment, cancel in advance. If you need help from someone, keep your requests brief and to the point. Keep your phone calls short. When communicating with coworkers, try to be as clear and concise as possible.
  • Respect other people’s space – Be considerate of others. Don’t invade their personal space and try to keep touching to a minimum. Also, be considerate of other people’s territory. Ask before entering another person’s office or cubicle. And if you share a space with your coworkers (like a kitchen or lunchroom), do your part to help keep it clean.
  • Don’t shift responsibility and blame – Never blame someone else for your mistakes. If you are at fault, be honest about it. Admit your mistake and apologize. Don’t focus on who caused the problem, but rather on what can be done to fix it.

Overall, being civil means thinking about the comfort and happiness of others. People who are civil think about the people around them and this helps them make the right decisions about how to behave.

Forni, P. M. (2002). Choosing civility. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

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