A hard truth: at one time or another, we’ve all been a jerk at work. Maybe it was a looming deadline that finally snapped your last nerve. Or an issue from your home life seeped over into work and made you edgy and cranky. Whatever the reason, sometimes leaders are rude to others. It happens. But it’s not just about your momentary rudeness. There’s a larger issue at hand: when you’re a leader, your actions affect a much larger wider circle of folks — and that has implications for your leadership effectiveness.
The business implications of your rude leadership behaviors
Unfortunately, when it comes to combating incivility, you’re facing some strong headwinds, both at work and in our society at large. Workplace incivility researcher Christine Porath’s latest research indicates that incivility at work is on the rise, with the percentage of workers reporting witnessing or experiencing rude behaviors at work increasing from 50 % to 62% over the last 15 years.
But guess what? Just because society is not as courteous as it once was, you don’t get a pass. You need to address your incivility at work. Because if you don’t, your team will take note. And they might even copy you. Porath, who is an associate professor of management at Georgetown University, has found that 25 percent of workers say that they’re uncivil because they see their leaders acting that way. Whether you like it or not, people emulate their leaders.
Even if a rough-and-tumble culture doesn’t ruffle your feathers, it bothers a lot of other people. Porath has found that 66 percent of employees who experience rude or insulting behavior from their leaders reduce their work efforts. Can you afford that type of slow-down in productivity due to something so easily avoided?
Being courteous means connecting in small ways
Civility doesn’t have to be a love-fest, with everyone being super-nice to one another. And it doesn’t mean that there’s never a difference of opinion expressed. For Porath, who has studied the damaging effects of workplace rudeness for nearly two decades, it boils down to treating people like human beings. “At its core, civility is about connecting with others. Small gestures matter,” she told those of us who attended her conference breakout session titled, “Civility: Do We Have Time to be Nice at Work?”
As the title of Porath’s presentation suggests, there may be pushback on the notion that being civil is time-consuming. But truly, when you reflect on it: how much more time does it take to be courteous than to be a jerk? It is the “little things” that often matter most. It’s rarely a matter of time. Rather, it’s about the way in which you interact with those around you. Here are six simple ways for you to start connecting more fully with those you lead.
6 tips for leaders to foster civility at work
Pay attention to people. Four simple words for optimal human interaction: Put the smartphone away.
Do a fact-check. Check in with someone who will tell you the truth. Ask how you are perceived. There is a difference between “direct” and “rude.” The first is fine, the second is detrimental to the relationship and makes you look like a jerk.
Listen. One of the biggest ways leaders demonstrate respect is to truly listen to other’s concerns. You might consider mindful listening, which requires you to be fully “present” to the speaker. This is especially difficult if the speaker is irritating in some way, but you must learn to listen “through” the distractions to get to the deeper meaning of their message.
Know your triggers. Porath noted that few of us intend to be rude; only 4% of people in her research report that it’s “fun” to be uncivil. Yet we all have things that might trigger a snarky comment. Think about the times of day, people, or situations that cause you to lose your cool. Then proactively decide how you will deal with them to reduce the chance of a rude comment or toxic attitude.
Apologize. When your composure slips, do the right thing immediately and apologize. If you are sincere, people will cut you slack. If they hold your feet to the fire, then you have gained good information: you’re doing too much apologizing after the fact and not enough changing of your ways.
Use civil words. Don’t be stingy with the words “please” and “thank you.” It costs absolutely nothing to use your manners, but a lack of them costs you (and your company) dearly.
Manners — and the respect that underpins them — matter at work. When you use these six tips, you show that you care about people. And, there’s a surprising bonus. Porath’s research has found that people who are rated as “civil” are twice as likely to be viewed as leaders, because they’re seen as warm and competent. If you want to be seen as a leader, act like one. And that means something as simple as treating people with courtesy.
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Originally published as a Smarbrief Original. Revised and updated 2023.
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