For a word that seems so innocuous, it can cut disconcertingly deep: incivility.
In its least toxic form, it can simply darken your day.
When someone at work makes a snarky remark, or doesn't look up from their desk when you're trying to tell them something, it gives you a bad feeling. In fact, it drains the energy right out of your body. Instead of focusing on what you need to accomplish, your mind can easily go to shadowy places. And you might think, "To whom can I complain about what just happened? How can I retaliate? Wouldn't it be wonderful if that person got fired!"
Incivility can take the form of offhand slights, insensitivity, rudeness, arrogance and disregard for the value of others. No matter what form it takes, it always erodes our feeling of trust. Who can feel safe in an environment where you know you could be undermined at any time?
A significant factor in the way we define ourselves is the way others react to us. Our self-esteem plummets when others treat us with disrespect, bully us or hurl insults our way. More alarming is the well-researched fact that our physical health will be affected – ulcers, heart disease, obesity and diabetes are all known to be exacerbated by stress. And what can feel more stressful than coming to work every day knowing that you will be diminished by a colleague or a boss? If we don't feel safe at work, we will not be capable of doing our best.
The word, incivility, shares its roots with the terms that define our ability to function as a civilized society. In effect, incivility is an assertion of disrespect and of power. It is one short step from bullying. So it is particularly devastating when it is your boss who shows this lack of respect – discredits your work publicly, is busy on her BlackBerry while you're making a presentation or speaks to you condescendingly.
The consequences of incivility in the workplace go straight to the bottom line of the company. Christine Porath, author of Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace, has surveyed more than 20,000 people over a 10-year period. She says the effects of rudeness spread like a virus, and the ability to take feedback or work collaboratively close down.
Some of Ms. Porath's other findings on the tangible effects of incivility are startling:
- Eighty per cent of workers lost work time worrying about an offending incident.
- Seventy-eight per cent said their commitment to the organization declined.
- Sixty-six per cent reported their performance declined.
- Forty-eight per cent who had been on the receiving end of incivility intentionally decreased their work effort.
- Forty-seven per cent intentionally decreased the time spent at work.
- Eighty per cent of customers who witness rudeness among employees were unlikely to return to the business.
What, then, does it mean when a leader makes incivility his personal policy? Leaders set the tone. And the world's most powerful leader has been modelling in-your-face incivility for his entire public life. Calling people names, showing zero consideration for others and focusing on me, me, me is his modus operandi. Unlike Abraham Lincoln, who exhorted his people to summon their better angels, U.S. President Donald Trump disparages, prevaricates, derides and bullies.
What effect will it have? In terms of the Porath research, the question should be: What will be the effect on the bottom line, not only in his own country but in the "so-called" civilized world? That unbridled incivility has the potential not merely to darken a day, but to blacken a whole era.