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Aug 24, 201712:31 PMMosaic Marketplace

with Deborah Biddle — A blog for diverse business enterprises in and around Madison.

Seeking civility at the workplace during uncivil times

(page 1 of 2)

In nearly every arena of our society, there is a measurable increase in “bad behavior.” From abusive relationships and marriages, bullying at every age in schools, rude and insulting co-workers, raging motorists, contentious politicians, ranting newscasters, and snarky comedians to abounding racists and supremacists, each are becoming all too commonplace in America.

For all our rhetoric of wanting world peace, we seem to struggle with the golden rule ever few of us were taught as children — “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I am reminded of a rebuke my fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Brown, would give our class quite regularly: “Act like you have some sense and stop behaving like ill-mannered pieces of humanity.”

Who knew I would live in a time when some of the world’s most prominent leaders in government, business, education, and the arts behave as ill-mannered and it is brushed off as okay, “passionate,” or ignored altogether?

Lest we think this behavior is more prominent in large metropolitan areas or at companies with thousands of employees, think again. It happens in mid-sized cities and rural towns, non-profit and faith-based organizations, and public and private companies of every size and industry.

Disrespect in the workplace can take disheartening forms of occasional public or private yelling, belittling, offensive language, and blatant sarcasm. It can also be relatively frequent, low-intensity negative behavior that has a substantial impact on employees. It can be as simple as a sarcastic response to a co-worker's comment during a meeting, or a rude or poorly worded email reply.

Research from 2016 reveals that incivility at work has doubled over the past 20 years. A survey by KRC Research also shows Americans feel incivility has consequences and tends to be directed at certain groups. In fact, most see a direct link between incivility in society and violent behavior (93%), online bullying/cyberbullying (90%), discrimination/unfair treatment (88%), humiliation and harassment (92%), and intimidation and threats (93%). 

According to author and executive coach Ray Williams, the groups thought to experience incivility most often include:

  • Homeless people (55%),
  • Muslims (51%),
  • Immigrants (50%),
  • Refugees (47%),
  • Transgender people (50%),
  • Lesbian and gay people (46%),
  • Lower income people (46%),
  • African-Americans (41%),
  • Hispanics/Latinos (35%),
  • People living with a mental disability (38%),
  • People living with a physical disability (31%),
  • Police officers (35%), and
  • Women (28%)

Professors Christine Porath of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and Christine Pearson of Thunderbird School of Global Business surveyed 800 managers and employees in 17 industries and found that of those on the receiving end of incivility:

  • 48% intentionally decreased their work effort;
  • 47% intentionally decreased the time spent at work;
  • 38% intentionally decreased the quality of their work;
  • 66% said that their performance declined; and
  • 78% said that their commitment to the organization declined.

In Porath’s research, she found that leadership is essential to eliminating incivility. She noted, “the number-one attribute that garnered commitment and engagement from employees was respect from their leaders. No other leadership behavior had a bigger effect on employees across the outcomes measured. Being treated with respect was more important to employees than recognition and appreciation, communicating an inspiring vision, providing useful feedback, or even providing opportunities for learning, growth, and development.”


Aug 28, 2017 01:09 pm
 Posted by  JamesLeeP

Thank you for this insightful article! I am 'old school' in what I consider polite behavior; what I consider polite could be considered rude to another person.

I prefer the platinum rule over the golden rule: "Do unto others as they would have you do unto them, not as you would have them do unto you." This is where the practice of inclusion comes to play, as there are many different culturally-based interpretation of "respectful" treatment. If I do unto others how I would have them do unto me, I am assuming how others wish to be treated based on my own culturally-based values.

The term respect is deeply and profoundly influenced by what we learn in our cultural communities. To create a workplace atmosphere where we are inclusive to our differences requires cultural competency skills. Without it, differences are not accepted, and diversity efforts fail.

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