August 15, 2013

Covenant of Courtesy

At my first visit to a new dentist, I had to fill out paperwork. Among the reams was a surprise: this page asked me questions about my likes and dislikes at the dentist. Do I hate sound of the drill? Do I have a low—or high—tolerance for pain? Do I prefer morning or afternoon appointments? Does it drive me batty to sit in a waiting room, long after my scheduled time?

When the hygienist met me in the chair, she reviewed my answers. The drill hum doesn’t bother me. Bring on the laughing gas. Mornings, please. And yes, it’s a short drive to batty if I have to wait forever.

Over the course of the few years, the staff was attentive to those preferences. They offered morning cleanings and pre-scheduled the nitrous oxide, and if the dentist was running late, they came out to the waiting room and gave me an update on when to expect to be called back.
All of this didn’t make me love going to the dentist. But when I went, it was a good experience. I felt valued and respected.

I attended a leadership workshop recently. We spent a good deal of time at the start establishing a covenant of courtesy. Lots of workshops kick off with this concept nowadays. Essentially the group sets its standards and expectations for the meeting upfront. Sometimes, I think it feels a little hokey, but after spending some more time with the covenant of courtesy, I’m ready to endorse it—particularly for vestries and nominating committees. 

The covenant lays out ground rules: We will start—and end—on time. We will commit to full participation. We will listen attentively. We will turn off our cell phones and computers. We will make our best attempt to attend every meeting. And when we can’t, we will notify the leader in advance. We will not be an air hog, bog, or frog. We agree the content of the meeting is the property of the group; we will not engage in side conversations in the parking lot, restroom, or by email. 

The list is created based on the particular needs of the group. For instance, some groups might have perennial eye-rollers or mutterers. They might need a rule about respecting the dignity of others. Some groups may have a tendency to blame; a rule pledging to use “I” sentences might be helpful (I think, I feel, I believe instead of you did, you didn’t, you should). 

I suspect that establishing and adopting a covenant of courtesy will feel a little clunky and awkward at first. But what I love about this concept is that it provides some great parameters and expectations. It respects my time – and that of others. It gives me (and others) a tool to use when the meeting is being hijacked by personal agendas or attacks. And perhaps most importantly, it creates the space for grace.

With a new program year approaching, I invite you to try this. Who knows what might happen. We might even start to love going to meetings.