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Civility: It's More Than Manners
Montana Senior News, June/July 2015
As a newlywed, Kalispell’s Diana Damron learned a life-changing lesson about civility from her husband. He arrived (and still arrives) everywhere early or on-time while she was perpetually late. Their different approaches to time management created friction whenever they had to be someplace together at a set time. On one memorable occasion, after Diana once-again finished apologizing, he met her words with silence.

“Then he looked at me and said, ‘no, you are not sorry,’” recalls Diana, who now teaches workshops on civility regionally and nationally. “‘If you were truly sorry you would not be late. Obviously, you think that your time is more important than anyone else’s.’ He had the courage to tell me that being late all the time was self-centered and I listened to that kernel of truth.”

However, Diana did not glide overnight from that pivotal incident to becoming a civility guru, speaker, and speech coach. Instead, her life path led her to a career in modeling and training future models, which at the time included etiquette. From there, she took a secretarial post at a television station and eventually landed a job as a news anchor. Reporting for over a decade in Florida and then in California, Diana interviewed everyone from felons and rock stars to politicians and the man on the street. Lessons in civility were assimilated when she learned the importance of working as part of a team whether in the studio or out in the field.

Gradually she came to see that civility could be summed up in five easy-to-remember words: “the consistent implementation of respect. People often think civility means agreeing with you. Not necessarily. It’s how you treat people,” she explains. “Civility runs deep. It’s not a surface thing. It goes back to character and opens the door for our character to become stronger as we pay more attention.”

What eventually prompted Diana to embark on a career helping others to be more civil was a variety of personal experiences dealing with incivility.

“I became aware of toxic environments and rudeness in businesses and their impact on employees. When people are fearful and angry, research shows there are huge emotional and financial costs,” she states. “I wanted to start turning that around.”

According to Diana, American companies lose hundreds of billions of dollars annually because of job stress due to workplace incivility.

“Employers have to pay attention to what goes on in the workplace,” cautions Diana. “Negative behavior and emotions are contagious. Once they get in, they permeate and are pervasive. When incivility takes root, creativity diminishes and feelings of anger at work go home with you.”

She also feels strongly that civility is past due in many places other than in the work environment. Practicing civility at home, in her estimation, is the perfect place to begin.

“Those are the people we take for granted. If we start there to care about what’s being said, it bleeds over into other areas of life. We have become increasingly focused on ourselves—on our happiness and hurt feelings,” observes Diana. “Because of that, we aren’t thoughtful of others and take offense easily. We lose opportunities to serve other people, humanity, and society.” 

Here are six things she recommends to anyone wanting to express more civility and spread more joy in life:
1.     Notice how you say things, not just what you say. When we communicate, we tend to focus mostly on our words. But Diana’s research has revealed that words comprise only 7% of the package. Tone of voice and body language carry the bulk of weight in terms of how our message is understood and interpreted. “You can say the right words but say them sarcastically or condescendingly as well as kindly,” she points out. “How a compliment, for example, is delivered is as important as the compliment itself.”

2.     Say thank you. According to Diana, one of humankind’s deepest yearnings is to be appreciated and there is no better way to do that than to express gratitude to others for their acts of kindness. These could be acts that require some sacrifice or seemingly inconsequential acts, such as opening a door for a stranger or giving someone your seat on the bus. To her, they all deserve recognition. “We don’t say thank you enough,” states Diana, who encourages people to look for ways to help the other guy. “Sending a thank-you says, ‘I appreciate you as an individual and the effort you made on my behalf.’”

3.     Dont gossip. “It’s neither kind nor respectful to engage in gossip, which is often based on speculation or exaggeration. Gossip erodes the self-confidence of the person who is targeted,” she explains. “As it spreads, it causes behavioral changes that undermine trust.”

4.     Make eye contact. Whether thanking someone or sharing her thoughts, Diana tries to do that face-to-face whenever possible. “With technology these days, we don’t have a lot of eye contact,” she notes. “How we communicate with others is important. When you can look into other people’s eyes, you see their anxiety or their delight. You connect. The eyes tell everything.”

5.     Be punctual. “Punctuality shows respect for other people’s time and for them. Being late means everyone else has to work around you,” says Diana, who still considers this trait, which launched her on her civility journey, to be an old trusted friend.

6.     Smile. “Aside from making you look younger, smiles are contagious,” says Diana. “They open up the heart and that is your life.”