Creating a Thriving Culture Through Civility: 3 Steps

Why does civility in the workplace matter? For one, because not having it is so costly, said Christine Porah, professor at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, at the 2017 PA Conference for Women. 

“Over two-thirds of people will cut back their efforts. Eighty percent of people will lost time worrying about it and 12% of people say they’ve left jobs because of one incident of this,” Porath said. “I think, in general, there are just a whole slew of costs to organizations when people aren’t feeling respected.”

In other words, even if your employees want to perform at their best, they can’t when incivility is present. Here’s how you can build a better culture and promote civility in your office.

What you can do

The good news is, civility doesn’t require a lot of work. Small, simple acts can make a world of difference.

Take Kathy Ditto, Senior Director at Cisco, for example. Her company’s big on inclusiveness and giving back – so it gives their employees “time to give.” Separate from PTO and sick time, it’s time employees take to give back to the community. Not only does it promote civility, but it encourages a culture of camaraderie.

People always remember these small but powerful actions.

Promote in-person conversations

When we think of incivility, most of us think of butting heads. After all, the hardest time to be civil is when you don’t agree with someone.

So what’s most people’s solution? Avoid difficult conversations.

But avoiding conflict is deadly for teams – it’s just going to build hard feelings. Teach your team to have tough talks without them turning it into an argument.

One way to do just that, says Celeste Headlee, author of We Need to Talk – How to Have Conversations That Matter, is by doing it in person.

It’s too easy to hide behind a screen, and most people are their worst versions of themselves in email, says Headlee. We’re more likely to bite and escalate conflicts.

Set a rule for your team. If a conversation takes longer than 4 emails, it’s time to talk face-to-face.

As humans, we’re designed to read someone by his or her body language and facial expressions. We give this up when we send an email or text. Encourage your employees to use phrases like “I respect your opinion and you respect mine, so let’s meet in the middle” and “I’m going to make you aware of my perspective and I want to learn about yours.” As a leader, it’s your job to encourage healthy disagreements with civility.

Give them the OK

One of the most important things Porath learned early in her career: Often, people are uncivil because they lack self-awareness.

They never had to work on their social skills. So it’s up to you to help them. For example, when Porath noticed all the male managers in her meeting on their phones, she called them out on it. It was such an automatic reaction, they said, they didn’t even realize they were doing it.

Stand up for civility and encourage your team to do the same.