Sue Jacques isn’t what most people picture when they imagine a Corporate Civility and Executive Etiquette professional. Yes she’s gracious, articulate, and lives up to her moniker “The Civility CEO,” but her passion for civility was born out of having spend many years as a forensic death investigator where she personally witnessed the pain and destruction that the absence of civility can cause.
Later this summer CiviliNation will be collaborating with Sue on an exciting new project, so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, please read this fascinating Q&A with Sue – hopefully it will inspire you to take action and get involved.
CiviliNation: You’ve been a Corporate Civility and Executive Etiquette Consultant for over a decade now, but you previously spent over 18 years as a Forensic Death Investigator at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Alberta, Canada. Share with us some examples of your work as a Forensic Death Investigator and what you learned from that time in your life.
Sue Jacques: My role as a Forensic Death Investigator was to attend scenes of unexpected, unnatural and unexplained deaths and to perform a medical investigation to help establish why a person died. This means that I was in attendance at accidents, homicides, suicides, occupational deaths and those of babies and children, as well as all deaths involving substance abuse or accusations of negligence or physical mistreatment. I was responsible for examining bodies, gathering medical evidence, notifying families of the death of a loved one, testifying in court and translating medical findings into common terminology so people could understand what happened.
I was a Forensic Investigator long before death became cool, and I worked closely with law enforcement agents, legal experts and other medical professionals. During my career at the Medical Examiner’s Office I was involved in the investigation of thousands of deaths. I learned enormous lessons through that experience, including the fact that everyone has an important life story, never to judge a person by their appearance or circumstances, and to live every single day with enthusiasm, joy and love. I also learned to accept what many of us fear, which is that is that we won’t necessarily be old or sick when we die – it could happen to any of us at any moment.
CiviliNation: Explain the connection between the two professions and how you use what you learned as a Forensic Death Investigator to now help individuals and companies create courteous corporate cultures.
Sue Jacques: For me it boils down to one word: respect. At the ME’s office I was surrounded by irrefutable physical evidence that our actions can have fatal consequences, and I learned that it matters – it really matters – how we treat ourselves and one another. I saw way too many unfinished lives and heard about far too many regrets.
Over time I began to realize that if I could find a diplomatic way to share my experiences and the lessons I had learned, perhaps I could help people make different, healthier and more respectful choices in their lives. The place that our population tends to spend the most time these days is at work, so I chose the corporate community as the likeliest place to reach the most people.
CiviliNation: Why do you believe civility is important?
Sue Jacques: I’ll state this very simply. Civility is important because life is far too short and way too valuable to live it as a jerk, with a jerk or surrounded by jerks.
CiviliNation: What in your view are the individual, interpersonal, organizational and political consequences of an uncivil environment?
Sue Jacques: Self-respect is, in my opinion, the single most important aspect of our being. And it doesn’t come instinctively to all of us; in fact, I think it’s a skill that most of us learn along the way. Self-respect naturally waxes and wanes throughout our lives. Until we learn to consistently take good care of ourselves we can never, ever expect anyone else to take good care of us.
From a corporate perspective, incivility costs billions of dollars. I have observed that people who work in disrespectful settings take more sick time, have less loyalty and are far more likely to perpetuate disharmony in the workplace. It just takes one tyrant to upset the applecart of an entire organization. Yet most of us aren’t trained in how to deal with these challenges, so things don’t change. In my experience, three of the most important things that managers must do are: 1) lead by example, 2) proclaim their expectations for a respectful workplace, and 3) take action when those expectations aren’t met. But sadly, that’s often just a pipedream. The reality is that when I share this philosophy with corporate leaders they all too often smile, nod, and go back to doing exactly what they were doing about it before – nothing. And when I share the philosophy with the employees of those same organizations they almost always smile, nod and remind me that I’m ‘singing to the choir’.
As for politics, it would be so refreshing to see government officials resist the rhetoric, stop the slander and focus on the facts. I think we’re tired of political shenanigans, and most of us wish that our elected officials would simply get on with the business of running our towns, cities and countries.
CiviliNation: In your view, does civility mean society needs to become “politically correct”?
Sue Jacques: No. I believe that civility means we each have an opportunity every single day to be kind, considerate, helpful and authentic. It’s not about right or wrong, good or bad, us or them. It’s about showing up with sincerity, being non-judgmental and putting our best selves out there all the time. It means revealing to others who we really are, not our version of who we think they want us to be.
CiviliNation: Are there certain segments of society that are less civil than others and, if so, why do you think that’s the case?
Sue Jacques: We live what we learn. Incivility isn’t always intentional – often it’s inherited.
CiviliNation: What are your views about the need for civility in today’s hyper-connected online environment?
Sue Jacques: All of us got on that freshly paved electronic highway a few years ago before anyone had a chance to post the road signs. As a result, we started making up rules up we went along: Text while driving? Sure! Talk on the phone in a theater? Why not! Post malicious comments online? Of course! We are just now beginning to understand the impact of those behaviors, and realizing that electronics, socialization and focus don’t always go hand in hand (pardon the pun).
Technology is a double-edged sword. Countless healthy, valuable and mutually-beneficial relationships have been developed solely because of electronic connections. Letting our fingers do the talking has literally created an entirely new method of communication, which has proven to be both positive and negative. The wireless word can be pre-loaded with false confidence, which often leads to the mindless transcription of unedited thoughts that are then packed into bullets labeled “send” and fired off quicker than a machine gun doing double duty in a winless war. People type things they would never have the guts to say to someone in if they had to look them in the eye.
CiviliNation: The call for “civility” bothers some people tremendously. Why do you think that is so?
Sue Jacques: I think it’s likely that those who are uncomfortable with the concept of civility have a different understanding of it than you and I. It’s often interpreted as conformity or being expected to adhere to strict rules and regulations. Simply put, I believe that civility is a verb; a way of living life with courtesy, professionalism and respect. I think that civility is making a comeback, and now is the perfect time to modernize its meaning.
CiviliNation: Please share some practical suggestions for creating a civil environment.
Sue Jacques: 1. Think twice, speak once. 2. If you’re a leader, lead. 3. Treat yourself exactly the way you hope other people will treat your children, your pet or your grandparents. 4. Don’t wait for someone else to set your standards for you – set your own, and set them high. 5. If you’re driving, drive. If you’re texting, text. If you’re dining, dine. If you’re talking, talk. It’s unsafe and irritating to do them all at once 6. Honor your commitments. If you say you’re going to be somewhere at a specific time, be there. People are tired of waiting. 7. Live like there’s no tomorrow. There may not be. Seriously.
Sue Jacques is The Civility CEO™, a veteran Forensic Death Investigator turned Corporate Civility Consultant and Professional Speaker who helps individuals and businesses gain confidence, earn respect and create courteous corporate cultures. In addition to being quoted in a variety of newspapers and magazines, Sue has been a guest on Oprah Radio’s “The Gayle King Show” and the Canadian television networks CTV, CBC, Business News Network and Global.