Photo Credit: Real Wellness Doc
In the summer of 2002, we returned home to the US from living in Cairo, Egypt for many years. I was surprised at the change in our culture. People passing each other didn’t make eye contact as much anymore. There was less acknowledgement in general. Once the cell phone (and especially the smart phone) became, not just en vogue but, normative, we became even more disconnected from people around us.
Then the humor at others’ expense escalated. As did impatience at others’ foibles and perceived differences (in traffic, at the ball-field, and in the workplace).
Respect had to be earned…not just given.
Tolerance is the public message, but genuine acceptance of another is altogether something else. On any side of the argument.
What do you take of all of this?
Is it possible to restore respect and civility in a culture? First, we have to know what that even means. When unkind habits become part of our lives, we don’t always know it’s happened.
Let’s focus on incivility. Just last week, I watched business consultant Christine Porath’s TED Talk on incivility. Her research with Christine Pearson on respect and civility was eye-opening for me. Incivility is edgy in its acceptance in our culture.
We are both shocked and even sometimes amused when people are abrupt, sarcastic or rude with others. This is dependent on our age, gender, and cultural background.
The problem with incivility is that it is contagious. It can infect a whole culture. Incivility, and disrespect, can move subtly to bullying.
Photo Credit: Patricia Bouweraerts, Martha Stout, WorkplaceStory
Author and podcaster Michelle McQuaid interviewed Christine Porath on “the cost of incivility”. Following are my notes in brief from that podcast:
- Incivility is defined as rude, disrespectful or insensitive behavior (whether or not the actor sees him/herself as being uncivil or disrespectful – it has to do with what the receiver hears or feels).
- We are all biased. We may not know our behavior is uncivil. The only way we can know is to seek feedback…and truly listen to and consider constructive criticism.
- Technology is a relationship distractor. It muddies civility. With our faces in our various e-screens, we miss verbal and nonverbal cues, make wrong assumptions, lose the tone and tenor of the conversation in front of us…and so on and so on.
- The cost of tolerating such behavior in the workplace: performance, mental and physical tolls, personnel retention, cognitive tolls (memory, attention, creativity), and less help within a team or across departments (incivility breeds mistrust – collaboration and cooperation just don’t happen in such an environment).
Porath gives some excellent counsel on what can help in an environment that has become disrespectful and uncivil. Unfortunately, incivility is too often expressed by those with authority/power. The best organizational intervention, then, is to recruit for civility, coach and train toward civility and practice civility. Respect and civility have to be core values of the organization. See Bryan Cave Law Firm‘s Code of Civility below:
Photo Credit: Bryan Cave, Christine Porath
For us as individuals, Porath counsels to take the high road in regards to civility. Do what you can to effectually put the incivil person “in a bubble”. Then work on your own habits of respect and civility. Smile at people…genuinely, warmly, acknowledging them. Listen – tune in, invest, make eye contact. Build relationships with your team, especially those who report to you. Humbly reach out.
Porath also gave a shout-out to Adam Grant‘s advice along the same lines: to share resources and recognition; give credit; show gratitude; say thank you; share purpose and meaning. [She did the same thing she encourages us listening to do.]
Porath is the author of Mastering Civility: a Manifesto for the Workplace. Definitely on my to-read list now.
I took her quick and easy assess yourself survey and tried to be as honest and forthcoming as I could be. The result was 64 our of 100 points (“good” on her civility assessment). It surprised me – thinking it would be a higher score. Along with the number score she gives a great strengths and “things to focus on” determination and guide. Take the survey. Worth your time.
We can pull ourselves up and out of a culture that thinks it shows confidence to yell at people or that it’s ok to laugh at someone else’s expense. We have the power to rise above and to bring back health to our organization. One small respectful and civil gesture at a time.