The Rules of Civility

In an era of increasingly uncivil people doing uncivil things (take a look at any social media channel on any given day), I recently stumbled upon Rules of Civility: The 110 Precepts That Guided Our First President in War and Peace, edited by Richard Brookhiser.

Originally published in 1997, with a healthy update from Brookhiser in 2003, Rules of Civility pre-empted the onslaught of reality television, and stories of soccer moms behaving badly on the field. This book takes a refreshing look at sage advice President George Washington followed, notions he learned as a child in the 1700s.

TheRulesofCivility-RichardBrookhiserWhile a few rules appear outdated (rule #9 – spit not into the fire, nor stoop low before it), the majority of ways to conduct oneself are practical, especially when it comes to governing ourselves in business. More than a primer on etiquette, Rules of Civility focuses on the motivation beyond the action. For example, rule #23 admonishes that “when you see a crime punished, you may be inwardly pleased, but always show pity to the suffering offender.” The motivation is to treat others the way you would want to be treated.

Here are the top five career-related rules:

1. Rule #12: Shake not your head, feet, or legs, roll not the eyes, lift not one eyebrow higher than the other, wry not the mouth, and bedew no man’s face with your spittle by approaching too near him when you speak.

These are a few non-verbal communication deal breakers that job seekers interviewing for a position, and entrepreneurs meeting with potential clients and investors, should avoid.

2. Rule #15: Keep your nails clean and short, also your hands and teeth clean, yet without showing any great concern for them.

Be neat, tidy, and professionally garbed when you interview for a job, or go to work everyday; however, take care not to overly emphasize your appearance, for it can make you appear conceited and superficial.

3. Rule #35: Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.

Brevity, when speaking with business leaders – men and women – is always a plus. We can all do without listening to a monopolized company meeting, whether it’s the supervisor or employee.

4. Rule #40: Strive not with your superiors in argument, but always submit your judgment to others with modesty.

The boss – or customer – is always right. Also, do not be heavy handed with your judgment, so as not to embarrass your co-workers or become the office know-it-all.

5. Rule #82: Undertake not what you cannot perform but be careful to keep your promise.

As the adage says, under-promise and over-deliver. Enough said.

Which of these rules hit home the most for you? Let us know in the comment section below.

NOTE: This updated post first appeared on the original Ask The Strategist website on August 6, 2011.

About the Blogger: Kesi Stribling

Kesi Stribling, Editor, Ask The Strategist

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