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Practice Civility

Posted on February 8, 2017
Image of a bronze statue hand with the cornice of an ornate building in the background

I read numerous articles a day on everything from how the post-mobile age will affect business to the age of analytics to what we learn from failure to promoting ethics at work. Some articles require deeper thinking and time to process.

Christine Porath’s The Hidden Toll of Workplace Incivility, published by McKinsey&Company last December, is one of those articles.

It bothers me on many levels — not because Porath is wrong, but rather because she is right. She details the significant growth of employees who report being treated rudely at work. In 1998, that number was 49%. By 2011, it hit 55%, and by 2016 that number had risen to 62%. Porath outlines the costs of the trend:

  • Workplace performance goes down
  • Employee turnover goes up
  • Collaboration goes down
  • Customer experience is negatively impacted

It isn’t that I am not concerned about the costs; they are obvious and impactful. What bothers me is the 'why.' How did we get to a place where 62% of people in business reported being treated rudely at work?

I have been lucky. For the most part, I have worked for and with people who are kind, compassionate and collaborative. However, I have unfortunately witnessed co-workers be belittled in front of their peers. It is unpleasant to watch and humiliating for the recipient.

How did we get here? This staggering 62% tells me we are accepting this as normal workplace behavior. A leader is not a leader if s/he is mean-spirited, rude or cruel. Good leaders show and demand respect for everyone. I had a manager once who I admired. He was supportive and encouraging. He got us jazzed up about new clients and took us out to lunch when we signed a new deal. He asked about sick kids and sick parents, and he always found ways to inspire us and push us.

One day I saw him belittle a janitor. He didn’t yell or lose it. It could be blamed on a bad day (not that that would have been acceptable). His tone was calm and direct and demeaning. In the ten seconds that I watched this unfold, the respect I had for this man vaporized. He wasn’t a leader, because a leader would never have treated someone with such disregard.

Whether you are currently a leader or you are hoping to become one, remember this — the golden rule — a leader must model and promote civility. She or he cannot tolerate disrespect in any form, at any time, toward any person.

Let’s bring back the niceties! Greet everyone with a smile and a pleasant “Hello,” hold the door for the person behind you, thank everyone who offers help or assistance, be kind, be collaborative, and when you are having a bad day, which we all do upon occasion, find a way to change your mindset — go for a walk, eat a piece of chocolate, shut your office door for ten minutes, or whatever else it takes so you avoid taking your aggression, frustration, and sadness out on those around you.

Practicing civility begins today, and it begins with you!

Anne Converse Willkomm
Director of Graduate Studies
Goodwin College
Drexel University
Posted in interpersonal-communications, leadership-management-skills