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Professional Civility

Communicative Virtue at Work

Janie M. Harden Fritz

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.

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Preface

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ab_preface acknowledg_t5 10/12/2012 9:03 AM Page ix 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 pro- fessional work as a calling with service obligations. However, the work of Andersson and Pearson suggested that incivility—the inverse of professionalism—was a seri- ous 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—ther e is no public agr eement 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 understand- ings 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 communica- tive practices of professionalism as a distinctive element of professional identity...

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