Incivility… The Signs Aren’t Always Obvious

Guest: Ammie Black HR

I think we are all aware when someone is blatantly rude or hostile to us.  However, I have found more and more in the workplace, and in society as a whole, that people have become so immune to bad behavior we no longer recognize it for what it is.

Incivility has become more about the small nuances and gestures that we often brush off as not important.  I facilitate training for my organization, and in one of my classes a few years ago I had one of THOSE students.  You know the type… questions you on every little thing you say, thinks she knows the material better than you do. Well, she didn’t, and after a couple of interruptions to enlighten us with her incorrect HR “laws,” I politely asked her to please hold her questions and comments until after class and I would be glad to speak with her in private.  She did hush up from that point on; however, she got pouty and refused to interact in the activities.  That’s okay, because I just kept smiling and rocking out my training.  To be honest, I don’t think she really was trying to be rude; she truly thought she had important things to say.  And I had probably embarrassed her, though that wasn’t my intent.  Her timing was off… as was her information.  We have all experienced these little encounters with someone who is too wrapped in themselves to consider their actions.

“Well, that is just Ruth; she’s always busy with her iPhone, she gets a lot of calls and emails you know.” 

“I’m sure Cathy didn’t mean  to bump into me in the hallway, she would have said something, but her mind was just on all those projects she has due.”

When we begin to let those little things slide, we begin to lose the good manners that should be a hallmark of professionalism at work.  One instance is likely not cause for alarm with your co-workers, however, when they are the norm of everyday exchanges there’s an issue.  Oftentimes, it’s when these small instances become piled up over time that the hurtful effects of colleagues’ poor manners are felt.

Not sure what I am talking about?  Here are some examples:

  • Use of a cell phone during a meeting, be it checking emails or texting
  • Making light of others’ accomplishments or contributions
  • “Huh?”  or simply not listening
  • Obvious disgust or irritation when asked for help
  • Using more than their share of department resources, leaving nothing for others
  • Blacklisting other colleagues by not inviting them to team meetings they should obviously be a part of
  • Sending short, snippy emails or voicemail messages
  • Not cleaning up after oneself, whether it be the break room, copy room or bathroom

Christine Pearson and Christine Prath offer good tips in their book, The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It, however, let’s be honest, you don’t read blogs like this to be told “Hey go check out this great book” (though it is a great book!).  You want those tips now!  Well, why didn’t you just ask nicely?  See where I’m going here?

When we lose the small niceties with each other, we see a breakdown of the team and a breakdown of the organization as a whole if left unchecked.  I know you know what I’m talking about.  Personality conflicts creep in and before you know it those little gestures have blown up all over your office and you are putting out fires like a seasoned firefighter.

It may seem that the list above is not really a big deal.  However, if our behavior with one another is less than civil, how about our behavior with our customers and guests?  Do we turn on the charm with them or are we cold in those interactions as well?

So, take a look around… is that incivility I see?  Where is it coming from?  Have you caught it in the beginning stages or is this an advanced critical case?  And don’t tell me it’s just your line-level workers causing problems in this area.  I would be willing to bet that some in your C-suite are guilty as charged.  If incivility is an issue in your workplace, I suggest your upper management take a look in the mirror first, then work on a change of culture that starts from the top down.  Instill values of good internal and external service.  Instill values of integrity, honesty and ethical behavior with all colleagues and customers or guests.  Walk the walk and talk the talk, right?  When you build this kind of culture in the workplace, you will reap the rewards.  You will see a change in your employees and your co-workers.  You may even see a change in yourself.

The big payoff?  Improved communication, improved management/employee relations, and improved teamwork.  And when these things improve, so will your bottom line.  Employees who are more engaged with the company culture and enjoy their work environment are more apt to provide consistent, quality service to all of your customers or guests.  Stopping incivility in its tracks will work from the inside out to improve your company – try it and see!