Workplace Civility

Female Business Team Shake HandsThe term “Workplace Civility” came up at one of our subsidiaries operational meetings and it sparked my interest.

We may argue that humans have evolved or progressed but from a conceptual perspective it seems we have come full circle in a kind of pseudo-progression. The insurance company Geico says “even a cave man could do it” in some of their advertisements, but we may be underestimating the caveman and overestimating the civil man.

The civil man may look the part but when you see the careless driving on the nation’s roads, the disrespect among our people, one really questions if we as a people have really progressed. We drive on the shoulder, we resist queuing, and we extend no courtesies if when paid to do so as Customer Service representatives. On the rare occasion, one receives exemplary service or care. We at Guardian are working on transitioning the rarity of a pleasant customer care experience to be the norm.

Workplace incivility refers to rude, hurtful and disrespectful behaviour. The vicious circle starts with a perception of inequity, unfairness which breeds negative feelings; this may fuel some desire for reciprocation and may manifest itself in uncivil behaviour. If we return to an eye for an eye, we will all be blind.

In the workplace, there are several contributors to workplace incivility. When one combines all the work factors of long hours, workplace stress, change in employment status, job insecurity, demanding bosses, “short” temperaments, intolerance of diversity, financial problems, with social and domestic challenges, traffic, rising cost of living, etc, people may be driven to act out. We recall years ago the term “Going Postal” where a post office worker in the Edmond, Oklahoma killed fourteen co-workers and then killed himself. When the incident was investigated, they found that he believed he was about to lose his job, he had work-related stress with a smaller workforce and decreased wages all contributed to the violence.

Your organization may not experience incidents as drastic as quoted above, but the subtler instances affect productivity, increased turnover, decreased teamwork, work avoidance, decreased motivation, increased health-care due to stress and or psychosomatic disorders, legal costs due to litigation and an impact to customer retention and growth.

Humans communicate and interact with each other based on their individual needs (conscious or unconscious), be it for power, approval, validation, inclusion, justice, acceptance, to mask insecurities etc. These needs colour our communication. If we review the underlying causes of conflict (let’s call it the conflict iceberg) since what everyone sees is the issue that is above water. We don’t see all the personality characteristics, the emotions, the interests, needs, desires, self perceptions and self esteem issues, hidden expectations and or unresolved issues from the past. We need to ask key questions that will help us see below the surface and if these answers are forthcoming they should enhance our understanding.

When communicating, it is important to be aware of one’s tone, voice volume, be open minded, try not to interrupt, remember pleasantries, say what you mean respectfully and don’t argue for arguing sake. One should address conflicts in private, be aware of one’s own defensiveness, practice active listening and avoid making accusations rather ask questions first. Sometimes, it is even possible that you can be wrong, imagine that?.

We should have healthy boundaries, avoid escalation and vent if necessary to cool off. Bullies are everywhere, in schools, and at work. The organization must deal with bullying swiftly. We must not let people take advantage of our good nature.

In conclusion, we should not be keeping score or waiting for someone to be nice first. We should consider letting things slide that may not be intentional.  According to Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the Change You want to see in the World”.

Denise Ali

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