90% of the Time

Last week, the OUHSC College of Nursing held a two-day conference for students, faculty, and staff. There were breakout sessions for students on topics such as resume writing, interview tips, and self-care. There were also faculty panels about the different specialties in nursing and opportunities for future education. But the focus of the event was on creating a healthy work environment and the role civility plays in that effort.

Our speaker was Cynthia Clark, PHD, RN, ANEF, FAAN (fyi ANEF is Academy of Nursing Education Fellow, and FAAN is Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing.) A Professor Emeritus of Boise State University and founder of Civility Matters, (https://www.boisestate.edu/research-ott/civility-matters/) her latest book is Core Competencies of Civility in Nursing & Healthcare.

Cynthia won me over when she quoted Margaret J. Wheatley and devoted a page and a half to the importance of listening, but I most appreciated her informal discussion with faculty about her book and her work. In that session, she stepped away from the research and shared real life experiences and strategies. While many of her examples are based in nursing and healthcare, the messages, ideas, and practices are useful in a wide variety of situations and circumstances.

What I want to share with you today though, is the way she engaged us in taking one of her two civility indexes. She has created the Clark Workplace Civility Index and the Clark Everyday Civility Index. Both are based in self-reporting, but she encourages using each one “in the way it is fully intended.” This requires finding a trusted partner. Each person fills out the form for themselves and for the other person and then discuss together. Not an easy task, but an important one. She encourages users to pick one area for improvement rather than be overwhelmed by multiple options, because of course, we all have room for improvement.

Cynthia told a story on herself when she did this and got some feedback that she thought was not quite right, one of her strengths perhaps. The trusted friend said yes, but you could do better, and gave her an example. It was powerful to hear as someone else’s story. How powerful it must have been for her to hear a trusted friend say “You could do better.”

Her first presentation was to more than 300 students, faculty, and staff – not really a space or enough time to do the full exercise. Instead she put the twenty questions of the civility index up on the screen and walked through them asking us not to use a typical Likert scale, but instead to ask ourselves, “Do I do this 90% of the time?”.

I was struck by the change in my mindset when she switched from the traditional range of Never to Always to her 90% question. While reading the book, I had skimmed through the two indexes and felt pretty confident about my level of civility. But the 90% question felt more specific to me. Did I really “Assume goodwill and best intentions” 90% of the time? Is it true that I “Reach out to help neighbors and others in my community” 90% of the time? Or from the Workplace Index, do I “Speak directly to the person with whom I have an issue” or “Share pertinent or important information with others”. Sure, but 90% of the time? That’s a high bar. In a Likert scale, there’s a lot of room between ‘Usually’ and ‘Always’ and that 90% caught my attention in a different way. Is there anything I manage to do 90% of the time?

Years ago, author and speaker Barbara Ganz, told a room full of administrators the definition of a saint. According to her, a saint is someone who does what they say they say they will do 100% of the time. I know I don’t qualify for sainthood by any definition. I don’t even reach 90% as often as I’d like, but it seems like a worthy goal, maybe an attainable goal, unlike sainthood. What is one civil behavior would you like to practice 90% of the time? What difference might that make in your work environment or the rest of your life? I appreciated Cynthia pushing us all to do better, to work to make our work environments and our world better through the way we treat each other and I recommend her work to you.

Take care,


Dr. Clark’s indexes are copyrighted, but are available in her book cited above or on this website, though you need to scroll through some other surveys to access them. https://www.boisestate.edu/research-ott/civility-matters/works/

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