Working on Kindness and Civility

Happy Wednesday, dear readers! I hope that your week is going well and that you are having a lovely day. Today I want to discuss briefly a book I’m currently reading, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One that Isn’t by Robert I. Sutton, and how kindness in general seems to be undervalued in many workplaces.

One of my friends and I were discussing how nice it would be to create a company whose primary rule would be that no jerks would be hired or tolerated. Everyone would be expected to be civil and kind to each other. We thought that a nice company is where we would love to work and different than some of our past experiences. Then, a few weeks later, I was browsing in a bookstore and stumbled upon Sutton’s work. I just picked it up from the library and had to share. I know the book has been out for a few years, but it is still worth discussing and I’ll be brief: there are only three things I want to discuss.

  1. Isn’t the title fabulous? The No Asshole Rule. It couldn’t be simpler or easier to understand. There is no ambiguity about the rule or what its intent is. I love it.
  2. Building on the first point, as Sutton wrote, “At the places where I want to work, even if people do other things well (even extraordinary well) but routinely demean others, they are seen as incompetent” (p. 57). I love this point and completely agree. I really don’t care if you are great at your job if you are nasty to others. It puts civility and kindness at the forefront of evaluating our performances, as it should be. Being nice should not be seen as a weakness, but as an imperative.
  3. One of the points that resonates with me is “framing”: “The assumptions and language we use–the lenses that we see the world through–can have big effects on how we treat others” (p. 105). Since part of my research interests lie with studying changes and differences in language, this was familiar territory for me. But much more than that, it is a true, common sense statement. There are many ways to communicate the same basic information that will have vastly different outcomes and affect people in vastly different ways. So the next time you need to communicate something, take a few extra moments to make sure your message is said in such a way that others will be receptive.

So what does this have to do with the library and archives?
We work with and interact with many, many people every day–both in and outside of work. There are just as many chances for positive interactions as negative interactions. Research that Sutton cites has shown, negative experiences carry five times the impact of positive interactions, so we need to be kind and civil to outweigh those negative experiences. Plus, I truly believe that, just as being nasty can be contagious in a group, so too can kindness and civility be contagious. This isn’t insane optimism; we know that we can’t change everyone from being nasty to being kind, but some may change.

We’re all stressed and overworked sometimes and we are serving communities that are feeling economic stress every day. Libraries and archives are already refuges for many and safe spaces to work, research, and be. So let’s all work together to keep them positive spaces, both for ourselves and others.

In one of those wonderful cosmic coincidences, this Free Compliments Poster came through over one of my feeds near the end of last week and was almost too perfect for this post on civility and kindness. I just printed one up and posted it on my office door. Hopefully it will make someone’s day a bit brighter, especially if they take a compliment to share with someone else. So, share compliments freely with others today, watch them smile, and I just know you’ll feel better too.

Finally, I need to give a shout out to my wonderful friends and colleagues who sat in on my seminar on Monday for my doctoral confirmation (both in person and online). You are truly amazing and make even the craziest days bearable. My sincerest thanks, always.

Take care, dear readers. Have a wonderful rest of your day and I’ll be back on Friday with a helping of tech news and goodies for you and your patrons. Allons-y!