Tag Archives: Incivility

Monday Morning Moment – Gently Confronting the Conflict Generated by Reductionism (You Want to Know this Word)

Photo Credit: Quote Master

Today, I want to talk about reductionism – how we reduce a whole person into one part – one facet that we take great pleasure in mocking or deriding. Thinking highly of ourselves in the process. Don’t miss this! Here we go.

Pierce Taylor Hibbs is a writer, teacher, and gentle theologian. I came across a piece he wrote this past week, and it has brought such clarity to a murky subject. The piece is “Reductionism: the Disease that Breeds Conflict”.

Don’t let that big word reductionism put you off. Hibbs will define it, but first, let me give you a scenario or two where we have seen this in action (and when we might have added to the fire of such a situation). We’re at a party of peers. We feel comfortable to just say what we think about any number of people, policies, or processes. No filters. What kinds of things pop up in those conversations? Mind you…they all are met with heads nodding (or shaking), laughter, and attitude. Mocking derision even.

Who are we in this conversation? The chief propagator of said comment. The amused and agreeing audience. The one uncomfortably close in character or worldview of the one being mocked. The one not necessarily close to the subject of putdown, but not comfortable with the putdown…or the people enjoying it.

Now…the definition of reductionism before we weigh in on our conversation topics. Hang in there. it’s so worth it. Pierce Taylor Hibbs on reductionism:

“Reductionism is the stepchild of our desire for mastery (complete control), which emerged from the ancient evil of autonomy Autonomy is the idea that you’re completely and utterly independent…You want full control. The thing is, you can’t have that. . . you know, because you’re not God. You’re limited by nature. That’s how you and I were made. But we’re so stubborn that we don’t accept limitation. We refuse to think we can’t master our own lives. So, within what John Frame calls the fantasy world of autonomy, we chase after mastery, and when we can’t get it (again, we never will get it), then we pretend to have it with . . . reductionism…If we can’t master our lives, then we can simplify them and make it seem as if we’re in full control. We can reduce the complexity of our own lives, the people in them, and the problems that surround us. We can take, in other words, an issue or person with a thousand dimensions and pretend that there’s only one dimension. That’s reductionism. Put differently by my friend and teacher, [Vern Poythress], reductionism happens when people “reduce the world to one dimension of the whole. . . . But reductionism is poverty-stricken, not only in its threadbare endpoint consisting of only one dimension, but also in its explanatory power.””

Reductionism, in short, is when people make something a lot simpler than it is. They do this for the sake of convenience, or egoism, or to build their own self-righteousness. There’s no shortage of motives, but I can’t think of any that are wholesome. And note what Poythress ended with: it lacks explanatory power. Read: it doesn’t actually explain much...In our frustration we reduce people, problems, and situations to manageable bits (ignoring swaths of information) in order to convince ourselves of our own mastery. You can start to predict why this is so destructive.”

Reductionism hurts people because it flattens them. It takes a human life (or a situation, political topic, etc.) and crushes it down to a single dimension, ignoring all of the others. That not only fails to align with reality (reality is always more complicated than we could ever dream); it insults people by making judgments based on that single dimension.”

OK…here we go on the topics “reduced”:

Vaxxers/non-vaxxers. Maskers/non-maskers. Cool/Not Cool. Liberals/Conservatives. Republicans/Democratics. Pro-lifers/Pro-Choice/Abortion. Boomers/Ageists. Patriot/Isolationist. Racists. Privileged. Stupid. Misogynist. Hurtful. Offensive. Homophobe. Sexist. Small-minded. Evangelicals. Enneagram or other reductionist labeling.

We can reduce a person into a box of one word or phrase. What is up with that? Nothing good. It’s handy for a laugh at a party or a sympathetic ear who “gets” people “like that”.

It is not reality. It may be entertaining, but it furthers the accepted divide between people. It degrades not only the subject of the derision but the audience, as well as the person speaking. Hibbs suggests a solution for those who want one:

“Reductionism is killing us because it’s killing our conversations. It’s killing open, receptive dialogue. It’s polarizing the nation, even the world. For our part, we have to start identifying and assaulting reductionism whenever it crops up in our conversations…But what are we supposed to do instead?…We need God and other people to understand not just the world, but even ourselves truly. We need two things: humility and a withholding of assumptions.” – Pierce Taylor Hibbs

He goes on in his piece, giving specifics of how humility and withholding assumptions work together to soften the elements of conflict, even to the possible healing of rifts. Hibbs is a Christian theologian and speaks eloquently of the life of Jesus in his people in the call to a ceasing of conflict. Not just avoiding conflict, but confronting reductionism. Whatever your faith, his counsel is sound in acknowledging the sting of our current biting and devouring social culture. And resisting the temptation of engaging in it…but not be just keeping silent and existing the conversation. Definitely worth our consideration.

Photo Credit; Janet Mock, Audi Quotes

Why Do We Have to Make Others Wrong to Be Right? – Lolly Daskal

Personality Tests: Why Are We Obsessed with Labeling Ourselves? – Sara Abdelbarry

[The above video is fascinating. Wow!]

Bullying: Scoffers, Mockers, Ridicule, and Scorn in the Bible and Today – Kelly Ann Christensen

Monday Morning Moment – Respect & Civility – and the Lack Thereof – in the Workplace and Public Life

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.

The Cost of Incivility With Christine Porath

Assess Yourself – Christine Porath

The Price of Incivility – Christine Porath and Christine Pearson

Choosing Civility – 25 Rules to Live By – with P. M. Forni – Barb Schrader

YouTube Video – Civility: a Conversation with P. M. Forni

Monday Morning Moment – Workplace Bullying

Photo Credit: Flickr

Just saying the word bullying prompts a memory and even a victim mentality. No one is immune from this experience, either being the target or the one targeting another. Bullying can sometimes beget bullying, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Understanding and intervening in damaging situations can turn the course of the experience for all involved.

Childhood bullying has been subject to much research and policy-setting in schools. What about when bullying happens between adults and in the workplace? What can be done there?

The Workplace Bullying Institute defines bullying as:

Workplace Bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is :

The Workplace Bullying Institute Definition of Workplace Bullying

When bullying happens in the workplace, we want to call it something else…controlling, rudeness, or maybe incivility. If we call it bullying, we must acknowledge that we could be a victim, or worse, we stood by and watched it happen without intervening. Or even worse, we could be confronted with the possibility that we, because of our commanding personality or position, have become a bullying adult.

I don’t think I’ve ever bullied someone else…but it is possible. When we find ourselves in a changing culture, we can change as well. A wise friend once told me, “A toxic workplace can corrode everyone.” I have, for sure, experienced workplace bullying. Especially early in my career. It’s never pretty, and even thinking about it today causes me to cringe. One situation was very private; no one knew but the two of us. A nurse manager was threatened by my role as clinical specialist and nurse educator on her unit. I had to learn to deflect and avoid confrontations with her (not in a frightened cowardly way but in a “wise as serpents, gentle as doves” way).

Another situation was when a physician wrongly accused me of misjudgment in patient care. This time was very public and he was determined to have me fired. I was not at fault (in fact, one of his interns elected not to act on my assessment of the patient which caused harm to her). Fortunately for me, the nursing chain of command was in complete support of my actions, and his rampage against me was neutralized. Whew! Bullying is costly.

[Sidebar: I don’t mean to disparage either person. Neither was a villain. They just saw things differently and chose to deal with it by coming down on me. I wasn’t a victim after all…especially in the second situation, the patient was the one who suffered during that blame-shifting. Bullying cuts a much wider wake than we think.]

Let’s think about our workplaces. Have we given into a workplace that mimics today’s “modern” culture – technology over humanity, coolness over experience, short-term gains over long-term legacy. Bullying doesn’t necessarily come out of any of this, except that our rules of engagement can change. Within that can evolve a level of incivility that gives birth to bullying, if we are not vigilant in preventing it.

Why “Modern” Work Culture Makes People So Miserable – Jeffrey Pfeffer

Refusing to ignore bullying and calling it out when it happens are crucial. This can be risky. We have to decide if we can handle the potential negative outcomes. If we don’t wrestle with the problem,  it can become commonplace and the silence is deafening.

“Words denied mean analyses not offered, things not grasped, surprise not registered, strangeness not taken in, all of which means that terrible mistakes are repeated, wounding ways of acting in the world never seriously reconsidered. The words’ absence chains you to the present, to what’s accepted and acceptable.”Tom Engelhardt

Am I wrong here? Is our workplace immune to what our culture is going through? The US is divided right now over how we are handling some huge social issues- racism, poverty, immigration, and potential national threats from outside the US. The media is peppered with Americans calling foul on what is perceived as bullying – from our leaders as well as special interest groups.

What is our recourse? One popular action seems to be to bully back…to villainize…to essentially return blow for blow. Social media is slammed with “he said, she said” hateful rhetoric. I’m so thankful for those who take a path of peace and wisdom (like the news story recently of 5 young people in our city who struck a blow for genuine rather than symbolic change. Transformative change).

Maybe, bullying in the workplace is hard to change because we as adults should be able to fight our own battles, unlike children who need help when caught up in this destructive cycle. We want our children to feel safe and to learn effective ways to deal with confrontation and conflict. In the workplace, we also want to have an atmosphere of mutual respect, purposefulness, and trust.

While insulating ourselves from bullying is one approach to deal with it, hopefully we can consider a more proactive stance. Many schools these days have a “No Tolerance” bullying policy. The students didn’t come up with that. It was people in authority advocating for them – parents, teachers, the school board. What would a “No Tolerance” model look like where we work? Who would set that in place? How would it work?

As peers, we can confront bullying and intervene with each other. However, to change a whole culture, we need those with greater authority to advocate for such a work environment.

Something to think about…and consider.

Please check out the links below – excellent reading on this weighty topic. Also if you have experienced workplace bullying or if you’ve known success in curtailing bullying in your workplace, please share in Comments below.

Anti-Bullying Week: Of Weasels, Snakes, and Queen Bees [Don’t miss the short video – clarifying & tremendously useful]

Infographic – 7 Facts of How to Deal with a Bully at Work – Catherine Adenle

Who Is a Workplace Bully’s Target? – Sally Kane

The Top 5 Threat Assessment and Workplace Violence Prevention Trends in 2017 – Arnette Heintze

75% of Workers Are Affected By Bullying – Here’s What To Do About It – Christine Comaford

The Hidden Toll of Workplace Incivility – Christine Porath