Good manners matter. We all know this and yet we often see bad manners everywhere, including the workplace. Bad manners are referred to in the academic context as “incivility”. Incivility is “Low intensity, deviant behaviour with ambiguous intent to harm the target, in violation of norms for mutual respect. Uncivil behaviours are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others” (Anderson & Pearson, 1999, p. 457)
You know the behaviours I’m talking about, showing up late for meetings, playing with gadgets while someone is talking, talking on a cell phone during the middle of a meeting, using vulgar language, insulting others, yelling, gossiping cheating.
Why are relatively harmless behaviours such a big issue? Think about the tipping point, or broken window theory. Small lapses in behaviour, when ignored, lead people to believe that they can get away with more inappropriate behaviour. Research suggests that incivility may lead to more aggressive anti-social behaviour such as bullying and harassment. In other words, we might start out with minor rudeness that can be ignored, but often this escalates to much more concerning behaviour. For example, sexual harassment is an extreme form of incivility towards one group of employees. With the introduction of bullying, harassment and anti-racism legislation in many jurisdictions, it behooves leaders to consider the source of many of these problems: incivility.
As leaders, we have an important role to play to create a culture of civility in our organizations. First we need to work with others to define organizational expectations of civil behaviour. Then we need to communicate those expectations, along with rewards, recognition and consequences of not behaving civilly. All leaders need to role model expected leadership behaviours, including civility. And finally leaders are accountable to ensure that civility expectations are being enforced within a workplace.
Professor Zopito Marini has developed a process for creating a declaration of civility (Marini, 2010):
- Have each person in the organization define civility, and in teams or groups, identify the common themes.
- Operationalize civility by providing concrete behaviours
- Create a declaration of civility outlining the behaviours that the organization will live by
- Provide clear expectations of behaviour in “peaceful” times as well as times of conflict
- Outline mechanisms to repair relationships and civil behaviour when relationships become strained
Leaders bear responsibility for a individual behaviours of others. Often by the time more serious behaviours have been identified, they have become public, reflecting negatively on the organization, impacting the organization’s brand, its sales, and possibly the ability to recruit quality employees, never mind the legal issues involved. Isn’t it better to manage the small things early and focus on a culture that is civil?
Marini, Z. A., Polihronis, C., & Blackwell, W. (2010). Academic in/civility: Co-constructing the foundation for a civil learning community. Collected Essays on Learning and Teaching, 3, 89-93.