Aaron Walton: It’s Right to be Civil


I have been spending time in hospitals lately, visiting my father.


And while there are many places the two of us would rather be, I am always interested in observing team dynamics in action. When it works and when it doesn’t.


I’m reminded of the research conducted by my friend Dr. Andrew Klein, a pioneer in transplantation surgery and research and the former head of transplant surgery at Cedars Sinai Medical Center. He examined the power of civility through a data-driven lens and coauthored a study titled The Barbers of Civility.


His findings were about much more than being polite. They pointed “to consequences in patient outcomes, the number of medical errors, increased medical costs and reduced patient satisfaction.”


In short, he found that “rude surgeons hurt patients and increase costs.”


When I had Dr. Klein speak on civility at my agency, the team was moved by the relevance of the topic to their own lives. As we all know, while new business pitches and client deliverables may feel like life or death, we ad execs are not medical professionals in charge of people’s lives. Still, we face real pressures and it’s not uncommon for that to inject tensions into teamwork and cause things to go sour.


Civility is a word you don’t hear much anymore. It may strike some as outdated, almost quaint. But I couldn’t help but be drawn to it as I look for answers to address the lackluster performance of DE&I initiatives in advertising and other industries.


I’m often confronted by those who believe that “differences are dividing us.” I tell them without hesitation: “Differences don’t divide us. Disrespect divides us,” which has led me to realize that if we are ever to be successful in our DE&I goals, we need to take another look at civility. How to inspire it and how to require it.


Diversity, equity and inclusion are outcomes. It’s WHAT we want to achieve. But it doesn’t give us enough clarity around HOW to achieve it. Civility gives us a major HOW. A way to get through hard conversations. To hear and be heard.


Read more from Aaron’s Op-Ed for Campaign US HERE.