Searching for Civility

I had the occasion to use an elevator recently, something I haven’t done in over a year due to the pandemic and a general inclination to take the stairs.  The sign read: No more than 4 people at a time, no talking and stand in the corners.”  So social distancing was expected.  But what wasn’t expected, were two young guys shoving past me as we entered the elevator car and shoving past me upon exit.  It got me thinking.  I remember when it was the norm to politely allow someone else, typically a woman or an older person (admittedly I am both) to enter and exit first.  When driving, I remember when signaling before a turn was the norm and not a sign of weakness.  I remember civility.

I’ll likely never see those two young guys again.  But millions of people encounter incivility in their workplaces and do have to see these people again and usually everyday.  Incivility causes stress.  I read a great book in grad school: Robert Sapolsky’s Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.  “When people experience intermittent stressors like incivility for too long or too often, they also experience significant health problems”.  Incivility can deplete your immune system, and has been shown to be related to cardiovascular disease, cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, and ulcers.”  The American Psychological Association (2015) found that workplace stress costs the US $500 billion a year. A significant number of studies conducted in the past few years relate incivility and stress in the workplace to: workdays lost, increased doctor visits and healthcare costs, loss in profits, decreased productivity, increased employee dissatisfaction and attrition, and a loss of concentration with accompanying higher levels of distraction.

Christine Porath, PhD, the leading authority on workplace incivility and author of Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace, has studied tens of thousands of people over 6 continents.  Ninety-five percent of respondents believe that we have a civility problem and seventy percent believe it has reached crisis proportions. 

According to Porath (2016):

It’s tempting to think that if you’re not rude, then you’re behaving in a civil fashion.  In fact, you’re only behaving in a neutral way; you haven’t harmed anyone.  Civility in the fullest sense requires something more:  positive gestures of respect, dignity, courtesy, or kindness that lift people up… You can either hold someone down through your actions or lift them up.  Not holding someone down is not the same as lifting them up.  Not sidelining them is not the same as encouraging their best self to shine forth.

Porath also provides an incivility quiz in which we may rate ourselves on the Likert scale of: Never, Almost Never, Sometimes, Quite a Lot, and Almost Always:

  1. Neglect to say please and thank you
  2. Use email when face-to-face communication is needed
  3. Take too much credit for collaborative work
  4. Email or text during meetings
  5. Keep people waiting needlessly
  6. Talk down to others
  7. Delay access to information of resources
  8. Use jargon even when it excludes others
  9. Pass the blame when you’ve contributed to a mistake
  10. Spread rumors
  11. Belittle others (roll your eyes, smirk, etc.)
  12. Retreat into your cell phone, laptop, etc.
  13. Shut someone out of a network or team
  14. Take advantage of others
  15. Pay little attention or show little interest in others’ opinions
  16. Don’t listen
  17. Set others up to fail
  18. Ignore invitations
  19. Show up late or leave a meeting early with no explanation
  20. Insult others
  21. Fail to acknowledge others and their efforts
  22. Belittle others or their efforts
  23. Make demeaning or derogatory remarks
  24. Take others’ contributions for granted
  25. Grab easy tasks while leaving difficult ones for others
  26. Forget to include others
  27. Speak unkindly of others
  28. Write uncivil or rude emails, texts, tweets, posts, etc.
  29. Behave disrespectfully when disagreeing with others
  30. Interrupt others
  31. Avoid looking out for others
  32. Judge people who are different from you

Weekly Challenge:  Take the quiz.  Where might you improve?

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