A colleague went for an interview recently and during their boardroom chat with two company representatives, the door gently opened, a person who didn’t introduce themselves stood in the doorway with arms crossed sporting a scowl while overseeing the proceedings. “How rude” my colleague said to me afterwards and, as it turns out, it was a sign of things to come from a rude and difficult senior manager. “Didn’t that person’s parents teach them any better!” she quipped, espousing the view that some of our workplace manners do stem from our upbringing if not solely from company value statements.
A recent Michigan State University study found that incivility is up in some workplaces, that it ‘spirals’, enticing the normally polite to be rude because being surrounded by that kind of behaviour drains our energy and reduces our ability to resist the urge to be rude ourselves. The study goes on to put a dollar value on productivity loss related to incivility and claims being rude in the workplace has doubled in the last 20 years. It is my view that environments defined by incivility do not lend themselves to effective collaboration or teamwork and now we have clear evidence of a bottom line impact to consider as well.
Incivility is not in and of itself necessarily bullying, harassment or open hostility. It is sarcasm, put downs, speaking over others, interrupting, being short or abrupt or not acknowledging people. It is behaviour that most fair minded people would agree is rude, borders on disrespectful but falls short of the standard for outright disrespect and bullying. And, admittedly, defining incivility does vary from one person to another and from one workplace culture to another. In one environment talking over someone is part of a spirited meeting that all agree is ok (or so they say) while the same behaviour in another workplace would warrant the chair of the meeting intervening by calling it rude conduct. Ear of the beholder. The thick skinned and the thin skinned among us may well view rude conduct quite differently but there are limits.
I would argue quite strongly that looking the other way to rude behaviour within your walls likely means its happening outside your walls with clients and stakeholders. If incivility happens unchecked, is it a gateway for more serious misconduct? It certainly does not from my perspective speak well of the state of leadership and it gets in the way of creating affirming, effective workplaces.
Employers do well to include civility in their policies though it may get the same weight the very challenging and warranted areas of bullying and harassment do. It still speaks to creating an culture worth joining and staying with. I admire employers who incorporate civility in their orientation of new staff and the training of new managers and supervisors. I hold in high regard leaders, regardless of their role and authority, who take on the responsibility of modeling courteous civilized discourse even when things get tough and the pressure is on, especially those who intervene when they witness rude conduct. In the end it does come down to each of us speaking out, to naming it and asking others to conduct themselves appropriately. It’s what our parents would have wanted for all of us.