When the American Bar Association announced that civility would be one of this year’s subjects for Law Day, I was excited because we have covered this topic in our news and seminars for decades. The first question legal leaders try to answer is, “What do we mean by incivility?” Over the years, what has become clear is that incivility, like beauty, often lies in the eye of the beholder.

“Identifying and studying incivility can be difficult. … Behavior you consider uncivil may not be regarded the same way by [others] — but if you feel disrespected, whether your counterpart intended it or not, your work will suffer,” writes Christine Porath, professor of management at Georgetown University, in Harvard Business Review. “In addition, what’s considered uncivil varies by culture, generation, gender, industry, and organization.”

Think of your own experience where one person’s compliment was another’s insult. According to Professor Porath, “incivility usually arises from ignorance — not malice.” Behavior that is deemed rude or uncivil by the recipient may not have been so intended, and this raises a significant challenge for all of us.

The Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct, as well as local court rules for both federal and state courts, provide that lawyers maintain “a professional, courteous and civil attitude toward all persons involved in the legal system.” In the broader business world, there are no formal rules of civility, but incivility within an organization has been proven to impede productivity, efficiency and profitability.

Most of us intend to be civil most of the time. It is the unintended incivility that we must guard against.

Unintended incivility is often driven by unconscious biases that restrict our ability to see other points of view and can result in seemingly innocuous comments or behavior being deemed by the recipient as uncivil or worse. Biases of affinity, confirmation, experience and beauty are just a few that can reinforce what we think is right and prevent us from standing in the shoes of others. Identifying and mitigating these biases is a learned skill that requires constant practice and can help us decrease incivility.

Some might think that practicing the “golden rule” of treating others as you would like to be treated would solve the issues of unintended incivility. But because our definition of incivility varies widely, how we would like to be treated may not be appropriate for others. Instead, consider treating others as they want to be treated — the “platinum rule.” This requires a level of understanding and compassion for others that neutralizes our unconscious biases and leads to a more civil workplace, home and life.