Our Journal

The Legacy of incivility

In my daughter’s school is a large poster reminding the children every day about the values and behaviour expected of them. It reads:

Always think of others and be kind
Look after each other
Understand and accept differences
Respect success
Be honest
Take responsibility for your own actions
Believe in yourself
I have worked in several schools recently supporting teachers to enhance their resilience and I have seen similar list of words placed in full view for both students and teachers. The words are not simply used for effect they are truly embedded and lived everyday by the pupils and teachers alike and as a parent I see their positive impact. It got me thinking of our workplaces and the varied list of values also pinned strategically for employees to ignore, and how we can learn a lot from what schools are doing.

The DRIVERS of trust and motivation (see table below) are all impacted by how we interact with each other. We damage another’s relative position when we are uncivil, gossip or micromanage.
We often exclude many individuals when decisions are needed relying instead on our superior leadership expertise. We deliver targets and budgets that over-stretch and overburden, and we try to control the physical presence of our teams through flexible working rules. These, often unintended, behaviours all serve to undermine and damage trust leading to demotivation, distress and reduced performance. The impact is significant both to our wellbeing and to the bottom line. And this is by no means and exhaustive list.

Let’s look at incivility as an example. Christine Porath and Christine Pearson’s work[1] has shown that the number one reason people say they are uncivil to others at work is because they are
themselves overwhelmed and under stress. This sets up a vicious cycle as the incivility spreads, flowing from the top down. Their research has shown that across organisations over two-thirds
of people say that they withhold effort after they experience incivility and 80% loose work time worrying about the uncivil interaction. Think about the last time someone was sarcastic, rude or dismissive towards you. Even if what they said or did was small the impact may have stayed with you for hours, even days as you go over the incident again and again. As Maya Angelou said ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’

But, it’s not just experiencing incivility directly, the impact on performance extends to those witnessing it. Again Porath and Pearson’s research shows that witnesses to rudeness were over 50% less effective on word problems and 28% less creative on brain storming problems. They even created these effects in experiments by simply priming individuals before tasks with impolite trigger words such as, impolitely, bother, interrupt etc. After being primed participants who received these trigger words reduced their selective attentional capacity by up to five times when compared to participants who had not received the trigger words. Those primed participants also reduced their ability to process information, make decisions and problem solve. Think about this in relation to concentration and focus at work. What if this effect happened with a nurse administering drugs to a patient because she had been subjected to incivility from the doctor five minutes before? No joke – in a study of 4,500 doctors and nurses, 71% of them tied uncivil behaviour to medical errors that they knew of! As Porath tells us ‘Incivility robs cognitive resources, hijacking performance and creativity. Even if you want to perform at your best, you can’t’.

So who do you want to be at work? How should and can you and your colleagues take responsibility for how you interact with each other every day? Every interaction has a legacy and we can each be accountable for our words and actions so they support the DRIVERS of trust not undermine them.

The DRIVERS of trust and intrinsic motivation

  • DDirectionA clear sense of purpose and meaning.
  • RRelative positionMy sense of significance, identity, and position within my group. That my contribution is understood and valued by others.
  • IInclusionMy perception of belonging.
  • VVoice and ChoiceMy sense that I my view will be heard and that I have choice, autonomy and control over my decisions that affect my life.
  • EEquityMy perception being treated fairly and of fairness and equity within my group.
  • RReliabilityMy sense of certainty and security in my surroundings, others and my life
  • SStretchMy opportunities for growth, learning and achievement through effort.