In the workplace there is little room for civility and kindness unless it is ingrained in a company culture. Business tends to lean towards being hard-nosed and competitive with people adopting the “what’s in it for me” attitude. This has resulted in an unspoken culture of incivility in companies, a behaviour that we’ve all probably engaged in from time to time but one which we don’t approve of. Incivility means that we’re disrespectful and undignified towards others, and express this by not listening attentively, by looking at our phone while someone is speaking to us, working on our laptop while talking, taking credit for a job that we didn’t do, blaming others and not taking ownership when we make a mistake, walking away from people while they’re still talking, publicly mocking or belittling people, being dismissive towards others, ignoring or excluding people in conversations, and withholding information. We may not be doing these things with malice but rather from a place of ignorance; however, in a workplace environment incivility in a company culture comes at a high cost. It doesn’t matter if you’re directly involved or if you’re observing incivility towards a colleague, it affects you just as much!
Incivility can be summarised as being blatantly rude towards others and not respecting diversity. Most leaders are actively doing their best to promote and get a healthy balance within their teams and using diversity to appreciate and leverage off each other’s many and varied talents, skills, strengths, ideas and perspectives. Incivility simply pours ice cold water over diversity. Research shows that incivility within a company culture results in decreased work performance, reduced creativity and brainstorming by up to 39%, disengagement in meetings, a lack of attention to instructions, and emotional exhaustion. Incivility comes at a high cost to organisations, but it is seldom ring-fenced as such. We think that people are under pressure to perform and busy with work tasks which makes multi-tasking acceptable, when in actual fact it is not. We’ll start to see little cliques developing within our teams and will notice that some of our colleagues are more isolated from the team than they should be. We all see it, but we don’t always take the time to stop, think about it and reflect over its impact on others, the team and our organisation. We may be directly involved and know how emotionally draining it feels to be sidelined or bullied by others, but we don’t often stand up for ourselves. We see it, we hear it, we feel it, but we don’t do enough about it to stop it, and we allow this uncivil behaviour of others to wash over us. Incivility in the workplace is not ok and it’s not acceptable. The change can come from leadership and be filtered down, but it can also start with you and be filtered down to your co-workers.
To shift the lever from incivility to being civil and respectful can start with being kind and empathetic towards others by using these tools.
- Saying thank you can go a very long way. These are two very simple and easy words that we only use 10% of the time at work. Be civil by thanking the people around you for their contribution, for their ideas and for their commitment. Thank you is also about acknowledging the person and being respectful of their work, time, ideas and resources. It’s about not taking other people for granted. Make a conscious effort to thank people more often.
- Share resources and knowledge: At work we often hold onto our knowledge believing that if we share it with others it may make us perhaps dispensable or vulnerable as others can use our work, ideas and concepts. Quite the contrary is true! When we share our knowledge and resources, we make room for innovation and allow for creativity with new ideas and concepts. Sharing is denitely caring, and often through conversation entirely novel ideas emerge. Not to mention that nowadays most of the knowledge can be googled and doesn’t have the prestige and power it did 20 or 30 years ago. Share your time and knowledge openly, frequently and generously.
- Give feedback generously and express gratitude: Giving someone feedback goes a level deeper than simply saying thank you as you have to be more specific. Articulate clearly what you liked about what they did and want more of, or what you think could be improved on. The art here is not to be general, but to really take the time to be specific about their behaviour, language, skill or process as that depth helps people to make the necessary change, by either repeating a behaviour, tweaking it or mastering it. Also, share what you’re grateful for in the person, and acknowledge them for the strengths and values they bring to your work.
- Attentive listening and attention: How often do you catch yourself listening with one ear, nodding away to the person talking, but already thinking of something else? It’s an unhealthy habit many of us have developed that is completely rude. We know very well what it feels like to be on the receiving end and we don’t like it at all, so be civil and don’t do it to others. Stop what you’re doing and honour what the person has come to share with you. Listen attentively to them about what they want or need from you. Tune into their mind and way of thinking so that you can solve a problem quicker or address their concern without miscommunication. Listening saves time and demonstrates respect towards the other person.
The time has come to reduce incivility in the workplace and to shift into humane engagements that value respect and honour diversity and kindness. Don’t wait for others to kick-start this; be courageous and start with your team and your co-workers.
Do your bit to change your workplace into a happy environment.