The Hidden Signs of Incivility

The Hidden Signs of Incivility

I think we are all aware when someone is blatantly rude or hostile to us. However, I have found more and more in the workplace, and in society as a whole that people have become so immune to bad behavior that we no longer recognize it for what it is.

Incivility has become more about the small nuances and gestures that we often brush off as not important.

“Well, that is just Ruth; she’s always busy with her iPhone, she gets a lot of calls and emails you know.”

“I’m sure Cathy didn’t mean to bump into me in the hallway, she would have said something but her mind was just on all those projects she has due.”

When we begin to let those little things slide, we begin to lose the good manners that should be a hallmark of professionalism at work. One instance is likely not causing for alarm with your co-workers, however, when they are the norm of everyday exchanges there is an issue. Oftentimes, it is when these small instances become piled up over time that the hurtful effects of colleagues’ poor manners are felt.

Here are some of the worst examples of workplace incivility:

  • Use of a cell phone during a meeting, be it checking emails or texting
  • Making light of others’ accomplishments or contributions
  • “Huh?”  Simply not listening
  • Obvious disgust or irritation when asked for help
  • Using more than their share of department resources, leaving nothing for others
  • Blacklisting other colleagues by not inviting them to team meetings they should obviously be a part of
  • Sending short, snippy emails or voicemail messages
  • Not cleaning up after oneself, whether it be the break room, copy room or bathroom

These are just some of the examples listed by Christine Pearson and Christine Porath in their 2009 book, The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It.

When we lose the small niceties with each other, we see a breakdown of the team and a breakdown of the organization as a whole if left unchecked. Studies have shown that most workplace conflict situations started with a small conflict. That small conflict grew over time as no one ever addressed the bad behavior.

It may seem that the list above is not really a big deal. However, if our behavior with one another is less than civil, how about our behavior with our customers and guests? Do we turn on the charm with them or are we cold in those interactions as well?

If incivility is an issue in your workplace, I suggest that upper management take a look in the mirror first, then work on a change of culture that starts from the top down.

Instill values of good internal and external service. Instill values of integrity, honesty, and ethical behavior with all colleagues and customers or guests. When you build this kind of culture in the workplace, you will reap the rewards. You will see a change in your employees and your co-workers.  You may even see a change in yourself.