Positive Steps to creating a civilized workplace- Part three

Positive Steps


In the first post of this series, I talked about working in an uncivilized workplace and the impact this environment can have.  In the second post, I shared research findings on this subject, to show why this is a matter that requires attention by senior decision makers.

Workplace incivility is costly to employees and employers. Organizations that have an uncivilized environment experience high turnover, more absenteeism, lower productivity, and higher levels of workplace harassment and lawsuits.

In this post, I share positive steps on how to change the environment and be safe.

A top reason that leaders fail, is that their leadership style is insensitive, arrogant and aggressive (uncivil). Nearly 50% of those surveyed about their leadership style, felt that being nice would hurt their chances of succeeding. This is not true. In the short term, this style may work, but eventually staff are unwilling to follow them. What people want most at work is respect.  Respect is more important than useful feedback, recognition, and even growth opportunities. Employees will leave if they don’t feel respected-so be nice!

Civility, on the other hand, enhances individual and team performance and provides psychological safety to staff. Team environments become trusting, respectful, and safe places to take risks. In one test, psychological safety increased by 35 percent when people were offered a civil suggestion versus an uncivil one.

Although this series is largely about workplace incivility, incivility can happen anywhere.  Because it is contagious, you can catch it, take it with you, and pass it on to others.

Good news!

The good news is that civility and being nice can counteract workplace incivility. Porath’s research  indicates that civility and positivity are also contagious.

I can confirm that. When I moved to a workplace that put civility and niceness as a priority, productivity, quality of work and collaboration improved-and turnover was lower. Porath’s research shows that our quality of health and work life also improves; we’re happier and healthier in civil environments. 

Things you can do

What you can do depends on your level of influence within your organization.  If you are high up the chain of command, you have a lot of power. You can set and enforce civility standards. If you are not, there are other things you can do to manage in this type of situation.

For Managers

  • Hire for civility. Negative people affect team performance four to seven times more than positive people. So, don’t hire toxic people.
  • Deal with uncivilized behaviour immediately, so that it doesn’t spread.
    • Develop codes of conduct or standards of behaviour. Codes or standards are effective if there is senior management commitment to them and they are enforced. All staff need to understand the expected standards of behaviour. Train those who need to enforce the standards.
    • Be a role-model of respectful behaviour. Civil communication is what you say, your body-language, and how you listen. Practice everyday etiquette, say hello, smile, acknowledge people, say please, and thank you.
    • Getting respect from leaders results in higher levels of health and well-being; staff enjoy their jobs more, have better focus, and can prioritize better. They are also more likely to stay with their organization.
  • Provide staff with training on:
    • giving and receiving feedback (positive and corrective),
    • working across cultural differences
    • dealing with difficult people
  • Provide them with coaching on:
    • negotiation
    • stress management
    • important conversations, and
    • mindfulness
  • Develop a set of civility metrics to assure that change is sustained.

For everyone else

Changing the culture of an organization is a long-term effort and can take many years.  Realistically, if  you are stuck in this type of workplace, it is a matter of survival until either you leave or the toxic person leaves.

  • Think before you act. Consider the potential impact of what you want to communicate and how you want to communicate it. Never engage in name-calling and personal attacks.  Don’t use social media for difficult conversations.
  • Manage your emotions. Understand what makes you angry.  By being self-aware, you can better manage how to respond, so that you don’t inflame the situation.  
  • Stay away from labeling people, for example, liberal, racist, sexist, etc.
  • Rely on facts rather assumptions.  Don’t jump to conclusions.
  • Stand up for yourself and others.  Being civil doesn’t mean being passive, challenge incivility in a firm, but civil and calm way.
  • Take care of you. The main reason people are rude is because of stress, so…be nice to yourself. Get plenty of sleep, eat healthy, and exercise.
    • I know from personal experience that the level of stress I experienced made me so exhausted mentally and physically, that I found it hard to take care of myself. One thing that helped me in the mornings was forcing myself to stretch and do some meditation. It helped me focus and clear my mind. I also found walking at lunchtime was great. It was physical, so it got rid of pent-up stress.
  • Look for resources that provide information or services on stress management. Some employers have employee assistance programs. These programs can provide assistance in several areas for employees, and services are confidential. Seek out help from physicians or mental health professionals. 
    • Check out online resources such as WebMD, Mayo Clinic, or other trusted resources. Some places of worship may offer counseling services to their members.  Family and friends can lend a sympathetic ear and a means to vent, but don’t make them your counselors, (it can wreck a relationship) seek out professional help.
  • Set boundaries and take safety precautions. In my case, I left the office door open when meeting with my manager. After the meeting, I would send a meeting follow-up email that would briefly describe the purpose and outcome of the meeting, so we both understood what was expected. If something was missed or incorrect, the manager would respond back to my email.
    • I documented uncivil interactions with the manager. My documentation was factual. I noted the date and time of the conversation, and what it was about with as much detail as possible (I kept my emotions out of it). I kept emails or other correspondence that were uncivil.  Why do this?  I wanted to be able to provide as much information as possible when I escalated the situation to senior management and human resources.
  • Talk to your manager or the person you have a toxic relationship with, if you feel you can.  I talked to my manager because I knew I had to and I prepared myself mentally for the talk, and any outcome. It was not easy to do, and it involved risk. If you do this, be prepared for any outcome good or bad and the consequences of your actions or inaction-so think carefully before you act.
    • In my situation, the behaviour got worse after the talk, so I escalated it to the next level-the escalation strategy did not work, the union and human resources did not help. (I still believe that there are people willing to help, and I would do it again).
    • In my case, even though every one of the team experienced this uncivil behaviour, they were understandably afraid to escalate this situation to senior management.  However, I know of a team that coordinated their complaints about their manager and presented them to senior management and the situation was corrected.
  • Keep a low profile. I tried to stay out of my manager’s way. I would try to minimize my interactions with the manager.
  • Take time off from work as a vacation or sick leave. 

Final thoughts

Workplace abuse is unacceptable.

Working in a toxic environment is exhausting mentally and physically. It is hard to turn off the tap at the end of a workday, but it is critical.  Find some way to release the stress daily in a healthy way.

Remember that your safety comes first, your family needs you more than your job does. Take care of yourself and seek out the professional help you need until you can get out or the toxic person leaves. 

As an aside, taking the steps I did. helped me take back my power.

Please share if you find this article helpful.

Published by Diane Allen

Hi there, my name is Diane and welcome to my blog site! Leadership mindset is the mindset that embraces, vision, courage and action.

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