The Power of Civility

May 26, 2020Dr. Leeno Karumanchery

We recently hosted a webinar around the power of civility. Here are the key takeaways! 

• How does civility drive positive workplace environments?

• Why is civility a key building block of belonging, inclusion and performance?

• What does incivility do to teams engagement and productivity?

• How can we proactively limit the negative impacts that stress driven incivility can have on teams?

Login to the MESH platform to access the webinar recording

What is civility? 

In a nutshell, it is showing positive regard for other people – not just showing them that they matter, but that what they think and feel matters. Things like courtesy, politeness and thoughtfulness – those are the keys that we’re looking for in terms of determining whether or not somebody is civil.

Most of us know someone in our lives who is rude. Here’s the problem: odds are that person just feels that they are either direct or forthright.  We probably know people who are blunt. Odds are they feel that they are just candid.  Similarly, the same words can have completely different meanings based on our life experiences. So establishing a context where our brains interpret things in a positive light, is really key. Context is everything and so how we interpret civility is deeply rooted in our experience of the world and the contexts in which we live. 

Pro Tip: Set the context for a culture of civility. It’s a massive contributor to positive culture. 

1. There is a message in everything we do.

If you work in a place where people are known to be incredibly polite, civil, caring and authentic, your brain will begin to automatically interpret most things in that light.  On the other hand, if your experience of an environment is one of disrespect and disregard, then by default you begin to see your place of work as unsafe. You will begin to always have your guard up because you never know when the next hammer might fall.

2. Human beings are not great with ambiguity because for the most part, our brains are talking to themselves in a way that ensures we establish some sort of equilibrium…ultimately to keep ourselves feeling safe and balanced.  The reason for this is that for every 1 sensory neuron that’s responsible for bringing information in, we have 10 to 100 that assort that information for us on the inside. And so what that should tell everybody is that in the absence of certainty, we begin to tell ourselves stories.  We choose information that makes sense of and confirms our existing experience and world views.  

If we’re used to incivility, we see and expect incivility. If we’re used to civil behaviour, we see and expect civil behaviour.

Why is civility a key building block of belonging, inclusion and performance?

In terms of safety needs at work, a predictable, psychological conducive environment is extremely important. And that’s where civility comes in. 

Incivility commonly comes out of pressure. It comes out of somebody else’s lack of composure, which causes incivility in behaviour, which means I have to deal with it. So safety is a massive piece here and it builds into this sense of belonging.

Whether we like it or not, there are power dynamics at play within organizations. When you’re in a position of power, you have the ability to create an overall sense of belonging among staff; the ability to drive a level of safety in and nurture that sense of belonging. So when people start to feel that their safety needs are being met, that they can start to trust their environment, they can develop a sense of acceptance and this is when their emotional intelligence can start to be tapped. This is where we start to really see our brains opening up in terms of feeling included in a space. 

Pro Tip: People make the mistake of seeing inclusion only terms of race or gender or sexuality. Minoritized bodies are an important part of the equation for sure but not the entire solution.

Unless I feel safe in the first place, unless my environment is predictable – I know what I’m walking into, my brain is always looking for threats. I am then forced to mitigate that sense of danger before I can begin to access my higher faculties.

Impacts of incivility in the workplace

If people are not treated in a way that they feel respected, that they feel valued, they find a way to express it. 

In some organizations, it’s as simple as calling in sick. In others, it’s quitting. It starts to get bad when you head into vicious compliance, meaning I’ll do it but let’s see how I do it. 

There could also be malicious compliance like actually trying to damage the company.

The simple truth is that there are tangible costs to instability. 

In a fairly large study of managers and employees across 17 different industries:

1. 80% lost work time worrying about incivility. 
2. 63% lost work time, avoiding the offender. 
3. 66% of respondents said that their performance actually declined
4. 40% intentionally spent less time at work.
5. 42% intentionally decreased their work effort. 
6. 38% intentionally decreased the actual quality of what they did.
7. 70% reported declined commitment to the organization on the whole. 
8. 12% percent said they actually left jobs because of incivility.
9. 25% actually admitted to taking their frustration out on the customers.

These are the things that happen with us when we don’t feel at our best, when we feel we’re put upon. Imagine how hard that is to track in a remote setting.

There are very, very real impacts to incivility in the workplace, and the amazing thing is avoiding it all is not rocket science.

Proactively limiting the negative impacts of incivility

Be kind and supportive. Recognize that people are under an unbelievable amount of stress right now and so we need to treat each other with humanity.

1. Establish a really clear cadence for courtesy and what respect looks like on your team, and
2. Hold team members accountable for their actions.

If you want to understand your own civility, put some real metrics behind it, sign up for the free MESH/platform today!

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