Maybe it’s this unusual election season, maybe it’s the amount of time so many of us spend online, but it would appear that civility, or politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech, has changed. It would seem as if we are often more aggressive, more impatient, ruder, disrespectful in our interactions. As is usually the case, this incivility can at times bleed over into the work place.
While incivility can happen anywhere-- online, the dinner table, at a store--when it happens in the workplace, the consequences are high. From termination of an employee to higher employee turnover, greater stress at work, lowered productivity and creativity, to the creation of a toxic workplace, a lack of civility at work has tangible costs.
What can incivility at work look like? When we talk about incivility, we are creating a net around those behaviors that are not always obviously awful or constitute an instantly fireable offense. It can be things like hostility, a ‘bully boss,’ not listening, disruptions, disrespect, eye-rolling, dismissiveness, rudeness, insults and name calling, blame and it can come from any level of an organization. Now of course, we are humans with a range of emotions that are not in check 100% of the time. Who among us hasn’t cut someone off or handed out the criticism too harshly or blamed someone for an issue? An infrequent slip into incivility is manageable, a pattern of incivility is a whole other thing and must be addressed lest it become toxic.
There are things all of us can do to keep our negative emotions in check in the work place and contribute to an overall workplace culture of respectfulness, inclusion and civility. First, check in with yourself and honestly try to assess how you communicate verbally, written and in your body language. Email has become a great way to communicate but it can be challenging to read nuance, sarcasm and tone via text. And negative body language is as easy to read as a nasty email so keep it in check. Second, know your hot buttons. When you understand what most easily sparks anger or defensiveness in yourself, it can help you take control of it rather than it take control of you. Third, especially when you are feeling triggered, angry, irritable, stressed or all of the above, take a breath and a moment to think about how you speak or act. In fact, I find it can be helpful in larger conflicts to actually ask for time to collect yourself, check emotions and get some perspective. It can be as easy as, “Alex, it looks like we are both pretty fired up about this and I don’t want to say something in the heat of the moment. I would like to put this discussion off to another time after I have had time to think about this from all sides.” Fourth, when there is conflict, work toward solutions over blame, rely on facts over assumptions and take responsibility for your actions.
Whether you are a worker, supervisor, manager or the CEO, you can model civility and respect to create an inclusive, positive discourse and work place culture.