Civility, You, and Mizzou

The purpose of this module is to provoke thought, provide some information and tools, and generate some discussion about building a culture of civility in our individual units/departments as well as campus-wide. Please feel free to use the facilitation guidePDF as a resource to help facilitate a discussion about civility in your department, work unit, classroom, and/or residence hall. You will be issued a printable certificate upon completion of the brief survey at the end.


CREDITS: Developed by Marlo Goldstein Hode and Niki Stanley on behalf of the Division of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity and with the support of the Show Me Respect Civility Committee.


This is what civility looks like:

Faculty patiently working with student in labGroup of staff smiling and listening attentively as colleague presents information on his laptopGroup of health care providers touching hands together as a teamStudent listening carefully to someone talkingStudents listening attentively in classChef kindly, patiently instructing assistant on preparing vegetables



This is what incivility looks like:

Staff member demeaning another staff memberOffice workers gossipingStudents not paying attention to instructorA man yelling and pointing Colleague talking on cell phone during staff meeting


In which of the two would you rather work/learn?

Faculty patiently working with student in labGroup of staff smiling and listening attentively as colleague presents information on his laptopGroup of health care providers touching hands together as a teamStudent listening carefully to someone talkingStudents listening attentively in classChef kindly, patiently instructing assistant on preparing vegetables


Staff member demeaning another staff memberOffice workers gossipingStudents not paying attention to instructorA man yelling and pointing Frustrated person holding hands over earsColleague talking on cell phone during staff meeting

What is civility?

Civility is consistently treating people with consideration and respect and valuing the
culture and humanity of others.

  • Respect
  • Care
  • Consideration
  • Tact
  • Listening
  • Fairness
  • Decency
  • Kindness
  • Self-control
  • Sincerity
  • Good citizenship
  • Compassion
  • Lending a hand
  • Awareness
  • Trust
  • Mindfulness

Silhoettes of people


Civility in Action at Mizzou

Every day in a myriad of small ways, our Mizzou community commits small and large acts of civility, kindness, and thoughtfulness.

Cherri "is kind, respectful and courteous when performing her work as a custodian. Every morning she greets faculty, staff and students with bright eyes and a beautiful smile."

"Joni came back to co-workers and restarted a conversation she felt she had ended abruptly."

"Heather took a bag of groceries to a student who has no food until Thanksgiving break."

"Jim was gracious. He gave words of encouragement and compliments to coworkers. He took the time to be sensitive to others needs."

"Ashley helped raise the spirits of a student worker who she knew was
going to have a particularly long day. Ashley baked cupcakes for the
student and staff to celebrate the student's birthday."


Myths about Civility

True or false? Roll your mouse over each statement to separate fact from fiction.

Civility means not openly disagreeing with someone in a meeting.

False. Disagreement is a healthy and necessary part of organizational life. Instead of shouting, demeaning someone’s ideas, withholding your opinion or pretending to agree, disagreeing ‘civilly’ means expressing your perspective in a manner that reflects your understanding that you are not always right and other people are not always wrong.

Civility is a cultural issue, not a personal one.

True. Although we all act as individuals, the way we act towards each other both contributes to and is shaped by our organizational culture. Rudeness, aggression, and thoughtlessness breed more of the same. But individuals would not act that way unless they could get away with it. This is why it is crucial for each individual to contribute to a civil work/learning environment where being a jerk, rude, or simply self-centered is not socially acceptable.

Civility means you always are supposed to smile and be polite.

False. Civility does not mean faking emotions that you don’t feel. However, it does mean being mindful of how your emotional reactions impact others. It means using some self-control when you are angry and upset, so rather than raising your voice, which can escalate a situation, you take a moment, take a breath, and express your emotions with less aggression.

Civility imposes restrictions on our everyday behavior.

True. Civility means restraining ourselves from acting in ways that may hurt, harm, offend, intimidate, demean, demoralize, scare, fluster, anger, etc. other people. It means being conscious and conscientious rather than being inconsiderate, self-absorbed, or simply in our own world.

Civility means adhering to a standard set of rules or etiquette.

False. Civility is contextual; what may be rude, offensive, or inappropriate in one context may be fine in another. This is why it is important for teams, units, work groups to have a conversation about group norms. Are there behaviors you can agree upon for meetings, e-mails, use of kitchen/common space, etc.?


Why do we need to talk
about civility?

Civility doesn't just happen (at least not all of the time.) Civility is often a conscious choice. . . sometimes it even takes great effort.

However, the pay-off makes it well worth it because by consciously choosing to act civilly to each other, we contribute to a workplace and community where everyone can thrive.


What is incivility?

Incivility is counterproductive social–organizational behavior ranging
on a scale from rudeness to aggression to overt threatening behaviors.

For example:

  • Failure to return telephone calls or email messages
  • Email messages WITH ALL CAPS, one word responses, delayed
    responses for needed information, etc.
  • Giving someone the silent treatment
  • Giving someone a "dirty look"
  • Asking for input and then ignoring it
  • Failure to give credit for collaborative efforts
  • Speaking with a condescending or impatient tone
  • Interrupting others
  • Refusing to listen
  • Impatient behaviors
  • "Side-bar" conversations during a formal meeting
  • Gossip or talking about someone behind someone's back
  • Accusations about professional competence

Why do we need to talk
about incivility?

A small act of incivility generates more small acts of incivility. Incivility can become 'normalized' and can eventually lead to bullying, aggression, harassment and violence.

Gauge depicting small acts of incivility starting in green/low measures, increasing to the point where incivility becomes normalized and finally at highest measure where bullying, aggression, harassment and violence occur.


Building a Culture of Civility

Increase Civility AND Decrease Incivility

Civil behavior and communication is conducive to
more civil behavior and communication. Just as
incivility yields more of the same. We must
actively work to keep the scales tipped in the
direction of civility.


Increase Civility

Small gestures make a big difference.

  • We all want to feel valued and appreciated. A genuine “thank you!” or “nice job!” lets people know that you noticed.
  • Give a little something, just because. Has a coworker ever brought you a donut or piece of chocolate? Talk about sweetening one’s day!
  • Hold a door open for someone; smile and say hello as you pass a stranger on Lowry Mall; let someone in a rush go in front of you in the line at Starbucks.

Bigger gestures make an even bigger difference.

  • Offer to lend a hand when you see someone busier or more stressed than you are.
  • Nominate someone for an award; fill out a positive evaluation feedback
    form; tell someone's supervisor that they are doing a great job.
  • Want to learn more? See 20 ways to promote civility and respect.

Decrease Incivility

  • Avoid being unintentionally uncivil by being mindful of your own
    behavior and communication.
  • Take an extra minute to re-read an e-mail before you send it. Does
    it express a tone of respect and consideration?
  • Be aware of what you bring to work. Issues going on at home or with your
    health impact how you feel and can in turn affect your work relationships. In order
    to avoid people misinterpreting your facial expressions or tone, just let them
    know that you’ve got something on your mind and ask for their understanding.
  • Speak up and 'interrupt' incivility in the workplace. When you are silent
    about incivility, you unintentionally condone that behavior. Learn to speak up for
    yourself AND others. You can learn strategies to feel more comfortable and be more effective at speaking up and confronting various forms of incivility, from simple rudeness to bullying. See these tips for confronting incivilityexternal link.
  • Put a stop to gossip. Negative gossip is one of the most toxic and dangerous forms of incivility because it easily spreads throughout a department and can lead to a phenomena called 'mobbing.' Mobbing is a form of bullying that extends beyond one person bullying another (or several others). It involves a group of co-workers 'ganging up' on someone through spreading rumors, passive aggressive behaviors, and rudeness. Being bullied by one person is bad enough, but when two or more of your co-workers treat you that way, it can be unbearable. Read more about mobbing hereexternal link.

Civility Scenarios:
What would you do?

The following scenarios represent some 'typical' academic and workplace
civility issues. We do not suggest that there is any 'right' way to approach
any of these situations. Instead, we illustrate a variety of choices that one
might make in these types of situations. As you will see, each approach
has potential desired outcomes and potential undesired outcomes.

The purpose of this activity is to get you thinking about different
ways we can address incivility, while at the same time realizing
that the issue is complex and there are no easy answers.
We hope this will spark conversation between you and
your colleagues, so that you can work together to
create a workplace where there is a balance between
individual vs. collective needs, responsibilities,
and preferences.


Scenario 1: In the Break Room

In the break room, you overhear Bob, an older male co-worker telling a joke about Mexicans. Last week, you heard him telling a joke about obese women. You know he is trying to be funny and maybe the person he's telling the jokes to finds them funny, but you find them offensive. Bob is generally a nice guy, but you don't completely trust him. In any case, you work in the same unit and you don't want to make any enemies.

What would you do?

  1. A You don't say anything because you are concerned that Bob will turn people against you or start telling jokes at your expense. Silence is the same as condoning the behavior, so by not saying or doing anything to address racist or sexist jokes, you help perpetuate the problem.
  2. B The next time you see Bob alone, you'll ask if you can have a word with him and let him know that his jokes make you feel uncomfortable and you think the break room should be a place where everyone can feel at ease. Talking to the person directly is generally a good strategy. However, if you feel unsafe or are afraid of retaliation, you might consider other options. See these tips on ways to talk to someone about this type of issue, or if you need help, contact the MU Equity Office.
  3. C You decide to tell your supervisor about the situation. This could be a good option particularly if Bob is a bit of a bully. The supervisor can explain the rules about appropriate workplace behavior and issue a warning. However, while Bob might change his behavior, he may not learn anything or gain any new insight from a purely punitive approach.
  4. D Talk to someone in HR or the Equity Office. This is good choice because speaking to an outside third party who can inform you about your options and any relevant policies may help you make an informed decision about how best to approach the situation.

Scenario 2: In the Academic Department

You are an administrative assistant in an academic department. You have a doctor's appointment scheduled during your lunch break. Just as you are getting ready to leave, a faculty member comes into the office and hands you a stack of papers and says that she needs 100 copies right away.  This is not the first time this faculty has come in with last minute demands. You tell her that you need to leave because you have an appointment. The faculty member loudly says, "What you need to do is your job. This cannot wait, I have class in 20 minutes!"

What would you do?

  1. A Say nothing  and make the copies because you are afraid this faculty person will complain about you to other people in the department or the Chair. This is an understandable approach, but then it is likely that this person will repeat this behavior to you or your colleague.
  2. B You say "sorry I just don't have time" and leave. While you have resolved the issue with your appointment, this faculty will likely complain and you may suffer some consequences. Moreover, there will likely be no change in the faculty member's perception of the situation.
  3. C You say "Administrative staff take lunch at scheduled times, which is different than faculty. So because I leave for lunch at a certain time does not mean I don't do my job." You set up the copies in the machine and ask the faculty to wait for them to be finished because you have a doctor's appointment. You suggest that you and she sit down to figure out how to avoid this situation in the future. This could be a good approach because you addressed the faculty's uncivil remark in a calm, rational way, while at the same time you are helping meet the faculty's current need and potentially creating a new process for work flow. However, the faculty member may see things differently or have different expectations of the situation and this response could provoke hostility.
  4. D You raise your concerns about the comments and the last minute demands to the department chair and ask for help implementing a process for work requests. This would be an appropriate method if you do not feel that the faculty member is likely to act respectfully if you raise the issue yourself.

Scenario 3: In the Workplace

Every day when you come into the office, you say "Good morning" to those who are already there, as well as to those who come in after you. You feel this is a simple act of common courtesy. You find it really unpleasant that one of your office mates does not even look up from the computer when you greet her in the morning. Although others return your greeting, it still makes you feel bad that this person ignores you.

What would you do?

  1. A You decide to handle it in the moment, so when you say "Good morning" and she does not look up, you could ask "Is there some reason why you don't respond when I say good morning to you?" This direct approach could be effective, particularly if that person is completely unaware that his or her behavior is problematic for you. Maybe there is a good explanation (concentrating on work and doesn't notice, not a morning person, etc.). However, this could also be interpreted as a provocation or accusation, depending on your tone and how the person interprets it. Also, if there are other co-workers in the immediate hearing area, this could put the person on the defensive.
  2. B Ask that person to coffee or lunch and raise the issue. You could say something like "I notice that you don't respond when I greet you in the mornings and I was wondering why. Is everything OK? Or have I offended you in some way?" This could be a good approach because it lets the person know that you are interested in the relationship and you are open to hearing what they have to say. However, just because you want to communicate about it doesn't mean the other person will be open or honest with you.
  3. C You ask your co-worker if they have noticed the same thing and/or if they know something about what might be going on with that person. This could be a good approach, maybe there is some key information that you don't know. Or maybe your coworker can help you see the situation in another way. However, speaking about a coworker to another coworker can also generate gossip and this could make matters much worse.
  4. D You speak to your supervisor about the situation. Again, this could be helpful if the supervisor can provide some insight or good advice. This approach could also backfire depending on how your supervisor handles it.

Scenario 4: In the classroom

You teach a large, lecture style class. You are frustrated with the behavior of many of the students. Some students do not pay attention and instead text on their phones or surf the internet. Other students challenge your lectures in a disrespectful way, using disparaging language.  And some simply ask a question that shows that they had not listened to what you just said.

What would you do?

  1. A Give a lecture about the types of behavior that you feel are not conducive to learning and tell students that these behaviors must stop or there will be consequences. It could be a good approach to raise the issue in front of everyone so that everyone is clear about the behaviors that are not to be tolerated. However, there could be problems with this approach. First of all, if there are no actual consequences then your assertion loses validity. Secondly, those students who are not problematic might be frustrated that they are losing out on their learning time…they may feel that they are being punished for something they did not do.
  2. B Have one on one meetings with the students who have been consistently problematic. This could be a good approach and opportunity to have a dialogue to find out what the student's concerns are and express your own. However, the student might get defensive if they feel they are being singled out or don't feel they have done anything wrong.
  3. C Speak to your chair and see about instituting a department wide policy to be included on syllabi. This may be a good approach, particularly if other faculty are having the same issue. A policy might be a way to change the expectations and culture of all the classes in your department. However, if others don't share your concerns, they may not be in favor of making policy changes, or worse they might blame you for not being able to handle your class.
  4. D You raise the issue to your class. You explain that you are concerned that these behaviors are not conducive to learning. Ask them to get into small groups and come up with a list of 3-4 classroom rules that would help create a better learning environment for everyone. This could be a good way to engage the students in the issue of classroom civility and to put the task to them to come up with ways to address the issue. This way, they have 'buy in' and are part of the process. However, this could backfire if students don't take the task seriously or if they complain about a misuse of class time (if this type of activity does not fit with the content of the course).

Scenario 5

You notice that one of your colleagues in another department on campus has done something for you in a particularly competent and friendly way.

What would you do?

  1. A Do nothing because that person was just doing their job. There would probably be no negative repercussions from this approach, but it would not 'add' to a culture of civility.
  2. B Comment on their helpfulness and express your appreciation. This takes just a minimal effort and adds to a culture of civility in which people are respected and acknowledged.
  3. C Send a note to their supervisor. This is a great choice since the positive comments will likely go in that person's personnel file and may make a difference when it comes to annual evaluation time.
  4. D Send a message through "Thank a Tiger" or post on MU Compliments. This is also a good choice, sometimes this unexpected effort and recognition can really brighten someone's day and really increase the positive feelings on campus. Visit the Thank a Tiger or MU Compliments websites.

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