Managing Incivility in the Workplace

Managing Incivility in the Workplace

This Friday I spoke to two different people whose peace of mind, focus, and productivity were seriously impaired following incidents of incivility by a departmental colleague. In both of these cases, someone in authority acted in a way that was demeaning, dismissive, or both. The solution to managing this type of behavior is not what you would think. This issue has been on my mind ever since last summer when I TheCostofBadBehaviorreceived a request to develop a faculty development workshop on the topic, and so I was thrilled to meet Christine Porath, a foremost expert on incivility in the workplace, at the Academy of Management in Vancouver last August. Along with her coauthor, Christine Pearson, Porath wrote The Cost of Bad Behavior, which outlines the impact on an individual’s concentration, physical, and emotional health, as well as the cost to businesses in lost productivity, absenteeism, and turn-over when people experience incivility in the workplace.

In this month’s Harvard Business Review, Porath wrote about what to do when confronted with incidents of incivility. Interestingly, her research found that our usual instincts to avoid or confront the perpetrator, or to look for assistance from organizational leaders, are often not the most effective methods to cope when we are the victim of this behavior. Porath does not disavow those responses, but she explains “…a more sustainable way to deal with bad behavior is to make yourself impervious to it—or at least a lot less vulnerable.” The way to do this is by engaging in activities that support our own ability to thrive cognitively and emotionally.

Cognitive thriving comes from pursuing opportunities for personal growth both within and outside of the workplace. This can include working with a mentor on career development or engaging in hobbies that allow us to build new skills. Emotional thriving comes with good self-care, getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, and practicing mindfulness. I would add that nurturing a variety of high quality connections both in and out of the workplace helps to counter-balance the impact of incivility. Porath likens incivility to pathogens or infectious agents. Just as enough rest and a nutritious diet make us more resilient to pathogens in our physical environment, good self-care also makes us more resilient to the effects of incivility.