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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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Introduction: A Framework for Professional Civility

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A Call to Responsibility: Civility and the Professions A growing body of research points to the presence of interpersonal communica- tive 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, con- tinue to receive attention in the scholarly literature and the popular press (Fritz, 2009, 2012a; Keashly, in press). Identification and conceptualization of addi- tional behaviors—for example, backstabbing (Malone & Hayes, 2012) and swear- ing 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 U nited States carries significant implications for organizations and their members, resulting in outcomes such as employee turnover, lowered productivity, and str ess (Fritz & Omdahl, 2006b; Davenport Sypher, 2004; see Pearson & Porath, 2009, for a book-length r eview of personal and institutional costs associated with incivility). We spend a large proportion of our lives in the company of other persons in the wor kplace; when interactions ar e marked by rudeness and incivility, the quality of work life is diminished, compro- Introduction A Framework for Professional Civility b_Intro thru 5_t5 10/12/2012 9:04 AM Page 1 mising the “good” of organizations as dwelling places for shared constructive activ- ity (Arnett, Fritz, & Bell, 2009). Several explanations for this increase in incivility have been advanced: a climate...

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