“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb
A few years ago, after the merger of two companies, employees were jockeying for new positions, withholding information, sabotaging each other and demonstrating workplace incivility. Exasperated, some leaders were regretting what was to be a great business decision. Before throwing in the towel, we suggested inviting Dr. Bill Lowrey, conflict management expert and winner of the National Peace Prize, to speak about his work with warring tribes in the Sudan. He mesmerized the audience with stories of his journey to peace. He patiently facilitated listening sessions with those who perpetrated and experienced atrocities such as genocide, rape and murder. After hearing his story, the employees in the room gained a new perspective about incivility and made strides to integrate and blend the best of their two cultures.
Maybe your workplace incivility isn’t quite at this level, but social behavior perceived as lacking in good manners may range from being rude, disrespectful of differences, or even threatening—and certainly can defeat morale and impact productivity. It is important to note that people who engage in uncivil behavior do not necessarily have bad or harmful intent. Even so, a lack of awareness can have serious consequences with increased attrition, low morale, little collaboration and an overall discouraging workplace.
At times, it is easy to believe that incivility is the norm in our current society with negativity among politicians, discourteous behavior from customer-facing employees, altercations on airline flights and a myriad of breaking news stories in the media. In fact, in recent articles in McKinsey Quarterly and Harvard Business Review, author Christine Porath, a researcher who has dedicated her life to studying incivility at work, reports that 98% of employees have experienced uncivil behavior and 99% have witnessed it. She does offer hope…
What’s a Leader to Do?
The most effective way to reduce the costs of incivility in the workplace is for leaders to build a culture that rejects and denounces incivility whenever it surfaces. With leaders responsible for setting the norms for a positive, productive work environment, they must have the courage to address and confront incivility. They cannot tolerate such behavior, regardless of who exhibits it. Read Bill Lowery’s Wisdom from the Tribal World– powerful suggestions gained while achieving peace among warring chiefs in the tribal world.