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Maine Senator Olympia Snowe is just the latest example in politics and business to demonstrate the ugly effects of incivility. She said last week that she is not going to seek another term in the US Congress.

The three-term Republican senator did not make her decision because she was facing a difficult reelection bid. Instead, she blamed the intense and sometimes destructive partisanship in Washington. That, in a nutshell, is the problem with incivility. At a certain point, people say, “No more. I don’t have to put up with caustic, vitriolic, negative behavior.’’ And they disengage, refuse to serve, quit their jobs.

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It’s not just in politics that incivility causes a problem. In business, it is costly to replace a worker. There’s downtime between when a person leaves and a qualified replacement is hired. There’s a learning curve for the replacement.

While businesses don’t expect to keep a worker from leaving for a good reason - a better position, a relocation - good businesses ensure that employees don’t leave for preventable reasons. When a person leaves because of incivility, that’s preventable.

And it should be unacceptable to the American public. I can accept any elected official’s decision to return to private life; what is unacceptable to me is a resignation caused by the atmosphere in Congress. The atmosphere of the past few years is reflected in Congress’ steadily declining approval rating, which hit a record low of 11 percent in December 2011. It is time to demand civil behavior from Congress.

Rudeness and incivility in the workplace - and Congress - are preventable. Prevention begins by changing the workplace culture and that means change must be embraced from the top down. That change is grounded in three powerful principles that should govern interactions in the workplace: be considerate, be respectful, and be honest.

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It’s time for congressional leaders to recognize that the current culture is toxic and to take responsibility for restoring civility in the House and Senate.


E-mail questions about business etiquette to etiquetteatwork@emilypost.com.