Professional Civility

Communicative Virtue at Work

by Janie M. Harden Fritz (Author)
©2013 Textbook XIV, 273 Pages


Winner of the Everett Lee Hunt Award 2014.
Winner of the NCA Clifford G. Christians Ethics Research Award 2013 from the Carl Couch Center for Social and Internet Research
The crisis of incivility plaguing today’s workplace calls for an approach to communication that restores respect and integrity to interpersonal encounters in organizational life. Professional civility is a communicative virtue that protects and promotes productivity, one’s place of employment, and persons with whom we carry out our tasks in the workplace. Drawn from the history of professions as dignified occupations providing valuable contributions to the human community, an understanding of civility as communicative virtue, and MacIntyre’s treatment of practices, professional civility supports the «practice» of professions in contemporary organizations. A communicative ethic of professional civility requires attentiveness to the task at hand, support of an organization’s mission, and appropriate relationships with others in the workplace. Professional civility fosters communicative habits of the heart that extend beyond the walls of the workplace, encouraging a return to the service ethic that remains an enduring legacy of the professions in the United States.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: A Framework for Professional Civility
  • A Call to Responsibility: Civility and the Professions
  • The Professions: A Legacy of Civility
  • A Moment of Virtue Contention: Incivility and Opportunity
  • Professional Civility: Communicative Virtue at Work
  • Structure of the Book
  • Modalities of Professional Civility: Communicative Virtue, Professional Communication Ethic, Philosophy of Communication, Philosophy of Work Life
  • Cautions and Caveats
  • Chapter 1: Virtue Ethics and the Professions
  • Introduction
  • A Foundation for Professional Civility as Communicative Virtue at Work
  • Virtue Ethics and the Professions
  • Virtue Ethics as a Framework for Professional Ethics
  • MacIntyre’s Virtue Ethics Applied to the Professions
  • The Tradition of Virtue Ethics: Implications for Professions
  • Traditions of Virtues
  • Application of Virtues
  • Practices
  • Communities of Practice
  • The Unity of a Human Life
  • Practices, Traditions, and Persons
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 2: The Tradition of Profession as Practice
  • Introduction
  • The True Professional Ideal
  • Profession(s) as Tradition(s) of Practice
  • The Term “Profession”: Continuity and Change in the Tradition
  • The Contemporary Moment of the Professions
  • Professional Identity and Professionalism
  • Goods of Professions
  • Productivity
  • Place
  • Persons
  • Profession
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 3: The Communicative Virtue of Civility
  • Introduction
  • Civility in Context
  • Civility and Civilization
  • Civility as Civic Virtue
  • Civility, Manners, Politeness, and Courtesy: Interpersonal Ritual
  • Incivility as Communicative Vice
  • Civility as Communicative Virtue
  • Theoretical Coordinates of Civility as Communicative Virtue
  • Civility and the Face of the Other
  • In Defense of Supportive (and Defensive) Communication: Civility in a New Key
  • Civility by Design: Message Design Logic
  • Dialects of Discourse: Civility as Communicative Dialectics
  • Civility and the Ties That Bind: Phatic Communication
  • A Civil Argument: Civility and Argumentativeness
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 4: Professional Civility as Communicative Virtue at Work
  • Introduction
  • Virtues, Professions, and Civility: Professional Civility as Communicative Virtue
  • Professional Civility: Conceptual Coordinates
  • Philosophy of Communication: Dialogic Civility
  • Organizational Behavior: Organizational Citizenship
  • Integration
  • Practices of Professional Civility: A First Look
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 5: A Pragmatic Case for the Effects of Communication in the Workplace
  • Introduction
  • Communication as Constitutive
  • Communication and Work Environments
  • The Organizational Socialization Process as Context for Communicative Shaping
  • The Influence of Communication on Perceptions of Self and Others
  • Language and Values
  • Summary
  • Effects of Incivility
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 6: Protecting and Promoting Productivity
  • Introduction
  • Work and the Human Condition
  • Labor, Work, and Action
  • Profession as Craft
  • Love of the Work
  • Productivity and Communicative Action
  • Tending to the Task: Communicative Coordinates
  • Defensive and Supportive Communication: Craft Reconfiguration
  • Levels of Engagement
  • The Professionally Civil Manager: Hope and Possibility
  • Professionally Civil Peers: Talk Matters
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 7: Protecting and Promoting the Good of Place
  • Introduction
  • Care for the Local Home: The Metaphor of “Guest”
  • Organizations as Public Narratives
  • Unity of Contraries: Support and Dissent
  • Enlarged Space
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 8: Protecting and Promoting the Good of Persons
  • Introduction
  • Workplace Relationships
  • Factors Influencing Relationship Development
  • Work Relationship Orientation
  • Public and Private Life: Historical Shifts
  • Private Issues in Public Spaces: For Better or For Worse
  • Implications for Professional Civility
  • Persons in Institutions: The Power of Roles
  • Interpersonal Practices of Professional Civility
  • Echoes of the Professional Legacy: Positive Emotional Experiences at Work
  • The Character of Civility: Principles for Professionals
  • Worth the Risk: Professional Civility in Challenging Contexts
  • By Popular Demand: Marketplace Insights
  • Conclusion
  • Conclusion: Protecting and Promoting Professions
  • Introduction
  • The Ongoing Story of the Professions
  • Continuity and Change
  • The Crisis and Promise of Professionalism
  • Toward a Renewed Professionalism: Professional Civility
  • From the Inside Out
  • The Price of Incivility
  • Professions and Communicative Practices: Enactment and Construction
  • A New “Rhetoric” of Professions
  • Summary: Protecting and Promoting the Good(s) of Profession
  • References
  • Author Index
  • Subject Index

| IX →


This work is an elaboration and extension of the organizing principle of a course Ronald C. Arnett and I taught together years ago. Since that time, Ron and I have conducted independent and collaborative scholarship on professional civility; those projects are referenced in these pages. I ended up pursuing the idea in book-length format because of my interest in civility and incivility in workplace relationships.

Connecting the terms “professional” and “civility” was a primary conceptual task for this project. Sandra Borden’s application of Alasdair MacIntyre’s virtue ethics to the profession of journalism in her award-winning work, Journalism as Practice: MacIntyre, Virtue Ethics, and the Press, provided insights relevant to the professions as practice more generally, a reading consistent with Bruce Kimball’s history of the “true professional ideal” in America. The “professional” part of professional civility now had a connection to virtue ethics and to traditions of practice (or, put another way, to practices that constitute traditions), and the goods internal to profession(s) as practice could be seen through a reading of Kimball’s documentation of the rhetoric of the professions from the early 1600s to the present.

Civility, which I reconceptualized as the communicative manifestation of civic virtue, and profession(s), understood as tradition(s) of practice, met in the ← IX | X → work of William Sullivan on the crisis and promise of professionalism in America. Civility appeared to be part of the “professionalism” that Sullivan held up as the distinguishing attitudinal and behavioral mark of a professional, an enduring ideal despite the erosion over the last several decades of the public recognition of professional work as a calling with service obligations. However, the work of Andersson and Pearson suggested that incivility—the inverse of professionalism—was a serious problem in organizational settings, where professionals typically practice today.

MacIntyre’s announcement of the metanarrative crisis of our era provided insights relevant to the incivility crisis—there is no public agreement on the “good” for human life and conduct; the self has become the primary guide for moral decision-making. At the organizational level, emotivism plays out in lack of shared understandings of appropriate interpersonal behavior; “common sense” becomes meaningless without shared standards. Incivility and other troublesome behaviors in the workplace are more likely when publicly agreed-upon guidelines for conduct are absent.

Following this reasoning, the crisis of professionalism and incivility in the work-place could be fruitfully connected. Professionals, once the standard bearers of an occupational ideal of responsible self-direction and service, were now working in bureaucratic, corporatized contexts. Bereft of a collegial environment for work and a sense of vocational engagement, professionals no longer modeled the communicative practices of professionalism as a distinctive element of professional identity in everyday work interactions.

Pulling these strands together suggested a question: What if the professions reclaimed, in association with the civic professionalism Sullivan urged, a civility tied distinctively to the tradition of professional practice—a tradition that now embraced contemporary organizations as a site for work? Organizations were the new “local home” for the professions, joining the historic goods internal to professional practice—productivity and persons—visible in Kimball’s story. Professional civility could be, at the level of organizational interaction, what Sullivan’s civic professionalism would be at the level of the larger society. Professional civility as communicative virtue at work could nourish internal organizational environments and lay the groundwork for civic professionalism as service to communities and society at large. Connections to Arnett and Arneson’s dialogic civility, with its responsiveness to the historical moment, limits, and sense of hope, and to Organ’s construct of organizational citizenship were natural next steps, and from that point, it was a matter of identifying representative work in conceptually related areas that could be understood through the lens of professional civility.

There is a natural connection between this book and the collections Becky Omdahl and I coedited for Peter Lang (Problematic Relationships in the Workplace, ← X | XI → 2006; Problematic Relationships in the Workplace, Volume 2, in press). As a set, the three books address an array of workplace relationship difficulties, communicative remedies, and a philosophy of communication/communication ethic for the work-place. Several ideas from the Problematic Work Relationships volumes and this book are cross-referenced. For example, Ronald C. Arnett’s chapter on professional civility and Becky Omdahl’s chapter on effective work relationships from the 2006 volume provide conceptual touchstones here, and the chapter on protecting and promoting workplace relationships in the second volume can be read as an extension of Chapter 8 (protecting and promoting persons).

| XIII →


I have many persons and communities to thank for ongoing support in bringing this work to completion. Leeanne Bell McManus provided much-needed impetus to persuade me to undertake the final stages of this work. Jeanne Persuit was instrumental in moving the project forward. Annette Holba and Elesha Ruminski prompted my thinking on care for institutions through an invitation to write a chapter for their edited volume, Communicative Understandings of Women’s Leadership Development: From Ceilings of Glass to Labyrinth Paths (2012, Lexington Books). I offer deep appreciation and thanks to Mary Savigar, Bernadette Shade, Phyllis Korper, and all the Peter Lang staff who brought this book to finished form through their outstanding professional work, and to Hannah Belmonte, who constructed the author index.

Students in multiple sections of the Communication Ethics and Professional Civility course listened to draft chapters of the first half of the book. Participants in the National Communication Association’s 2011 Hope Conference offered constructive feedback, insights, and thoughtful responses. Robert H. Woods Jr. offered good counsel and enthusiastic encouragement. Becky Omdahl’s friendship and care are precious gifts; she embodies the true professional ideal. My brother, Bobby, who began his own professional studies as I worked on this book, supported me with prayers and encouragement. My husband, Carl, patiently awaited the completion of this project and provided all manner of support. ← XIII | XIV →

Duquesne University is a wonderful academic home. Chancellor John Murray and President Charles Dougherty have provided years of outstanding leadership for this place. I honor in this work the memory of Michael P. Weber, who believed in me when the evidence was yet to emerge. He understood the difference between imagination and fantasy. James Swindal, dean of the McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts, provides a model of scholarly leadership and productivity, as did his predecessors Christopher Duncan and Francesco Cesareo. My colleagues in the Department of Communication & Rhetorical Studies bring joy to the work; I will always be grateful to them, especially to Ronald C. Arnett, who taught me to love the work, care for institutions, and support people—Ron, you make places and persons flourish through productivity.

I offer this book to the Spiritans, the priests and brothers of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, who remind us that there is always a heart propelling the best practices.


| 1 →


A Framework for Professional Civility

A Call to Responsibility: Civility and the Professions

A growing body of research points to the presence of interpersonal communicative practices contributing to problematic relationships in the workplace (Fritz & Omdahl, 2006a, Omdahl & Fritz, in press). Problematic workplace behaviors such as social undermining, interpersonal harassment, and bullying, for example, continue to receive attention in the scholarly literature and the popular press (Fritz, 2009, 2012a; Keashly, in press). Identification and conceptualization of additional behaviors—for example, backstabbing (Malone & Hayes, 2012) and swearing in the workplace (Johnson, 2012)—join existing research on organizational misbehavior (Fritz, in press-a) as further refinement and clarification of the domain of problematic behaviors in the workplace ensues. This crisis of incivility (Fritz, 2012a) in workplaces in the United States carries significant implications for organizations and their members, resulting in outcomes such as employee turnover, lowered productivity, and stress (Fritz & Omdahl, 2006b; Davenport Sypher, 2004; see Pearson & Porath, 2009, for a book-length review of personal and institutional costs associated with incivility). We spend a large proportion of our lives in the company of other persons in the workplace; when interactions are marked by rudeness and incivility, the quality of work life is diminished, ← 1 | 2 → compromising the “good” of organizations as dwelling places for shared constructive activity (Arnett, Fritz, & Bell, 2009).

Several explanations for this increase in incivility have been advanced: a climate of informality in the workplace in the midst of diversity of cultural and generational backgrounds, prompting misunderstandings due to differences in implicit communication rules; proliferation of technology that removes face-to-face interaction, making impulsivity more likely; increased demands for productivity, generating stress and frayed tempers; and changing norms in society at large for standards of behavior (Andersson & Pearson, 1999; Davenport Sypher, 2004; Johnson & Indvik, 2001a, 2001b; Pearson, Andersson, & Porath, 2000; Pearson & Porath, 2009; Zemke, Raines, & Filipczak, 2000). This latter point prompts a key question: Why be civil at all? Why should we bother to engage others with a discourse of care, respect, and thoughtful attentiveness befitting their humanity? Work by authors such as Steven Carter (1998), M. Scott Peck (1994), and P. M. Forni (2002, 2008) suggests that being civil to others is no longer a “common sense” communicative practice in a world lacking a shared virtue structure (Arnett et al., 2009). In a moment of economic collapse, failing corporations, irresponsible institutional leadership, and rampant individualism (Putnam, 2000), civility no longer appears to be a taken-for-granted or normative interactive practice for either public life in general or organizational life in particular.

In academic circles, explicit disputes about the theoretical and practical status of civility ensue. Some scholars argue the case for civility and note its benefits, tying civil discourse practices to justice in the public sphere. Carter (1998), for instance, holds civility as the only hope for those in positions of low status and power, because civility as a normative practice calls those who have power into account. Kingwell (1995) offers civility as the foundation for “just talking” necessary for democratic societies to function. Bone, Griffin, and Scholz (2008) suggest that civility helps establish an invitational stance between and among citizens with deeply held differences on issues of importance in the public domain. Other scholars recognize civility’s pragmatic functionality, proclaiming it a vital resource for business and professional life (Davenport Sypher, 2004; Gill & Davenport Sypher, 2009; Troester & Mester, 2007) and a necessary remedy for incivility and related problematic behavior in the academy (Hickson & Roebuck, 2009; Omdahl, in press; Twale & De Luca, 2008). P. M. Forni (2011b) connects civility to the “thinking life”—one that is marked by reflection, a holistic sense of meaning, and service to the larger human community. However, some scholars identify civility and its communicative restraint as a problematic concept linked to hegemonic formations of class and race (e.g., Ashcraft & Allen, 2003; Cheney & Ashcraft, 2007; Kisselburgh & Dutta, 2009; Lozano-Reich ← 2 | 3 → & Cloud, 2009), a dangerous and superficial substitute for political critique (Mayo, 2002). The very idea of civility is contested terrain.

I propose that civil communicative practices fostering coordinated action in institutional settings establish a minimal common ground of the good (Arnett et al., 2009; Bok, 1995) for life together in organizations. The history of civility as an interactive norm reflects an ongoing concern for order and structure in public and private life that permits the accomplishment of personal, institutional, and community goals (Carter, 1998; Davetian, 2009; Elias, 1978, 1982; Forni, 2002, 2008, 2011a; Kingwell, 1995, 2000; Selznick, 1992/1994), contested though these goals may be at particular points in time. What Sypnowich (2000) referred to as “the accessibility of the modern idea of civility” (p. 110) suggests that behavior showing consideration toward others is a pragmatic practice adoptable by, and efficacious for, any group, class, or status level. The constraints of civility permit honesty in communicative action and the free exchange of ideas (p. 111), protecting and promoting public discourse necessary to accomplish shared goals in civil society (Arnett et al., 2009; Kingwell, 1995; Sellars, 2004). This framing of civility is consistent with Patton’s (2004) distinction between a “civility that supports a common good for an inclusive collectivity” (p. 65) and a hegemonic civility that suppresses and silences opposition in support of an oppressive status quo.

The purpose of this project is to place civility within a theoretical framework of ethical interpersonal communicative action in organizations, with a specific focus on the role of the professions in embracing a communicative ethic of civility that remains an implicit element of the historic legacy of the professional ideal in the United States, as articulated by Kimball (1995). At the broadest level, I conceptualize civility in interpersonal interaction in public and private settings as a communicative virtue (Fritz, 2011). From a virtue ethics perspective, behaving with civility toward others is an integral part of a flourishing human existence that defines the good of, and for, human life; civility contributes to the well-being of others with whom one comes into contact in the course of daily life. Civility, within this general framework, is a communicative virtue that protects and promotes respect for human beings and supports the various social contexts within which human lives find meaning and significance (Laverty, 2009).


XIV, 273
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2012 (November)
respect employment attentiveness service ethic integrity
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2013. XIV, 273 pp.

Biographical notes

Janie M. Harden Fritz (Author)

Janie M. Harden Fritz received her PhD in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin. She is professor in the Department of Communication & Rhetorical Studies at Duquesne University. She is co-editor (with Becky L. Omdahl) of Problematic Relationships in the Workplace Volumes 1 and 2 (Peter Lang, 2006, 2012), co-editor (with S. Alyssa Groom) of Communication Ethics and Crisis (2012), and co-author (with Ronald C. Arnett and Leeanne M. Bell) of Communication Ethics Literacy: Dialogue and Difference (2009). She is a past president of the Eastern Communication Association and the Religious Communication Association.


Title: Professional Civility
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