Make Civility the Norm on Your Team

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Christine Porath for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

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We all want to come to work and be treated with kindness and respect. Unfortunately, my research shows that there is rampant incivility in most organizations. I found that 98% of the workers I surveyed over the past 20 years have experienced rude behavior and 99% have witnessed it. And the situation seems to be worsening. In 2011 half said they were treated badly at least once a week — up from a quarter in 1998. So what can a manager do to ensure that people on their team or in their department treat each other well?

Articulate values and set expectations.

First, managers need to set expectations. This starts in the interview process when you have the opportunity to articulate your values to prospects during the hiring process. Be explicit about your organization’s values and then encourage candidates to decide for themselves: Do they truly want to work in an organization where these values reign supreme every day?

Once an employee joins your team, it’s important to reinforce those values.

Marriott, for example, identified three pillars of employee well-being: “We all need to feel good about ourselves, the workplace, and about our company’s role in society.” Managers at Marriott know that small daily acts affect how employees interact with others and that civility spreads in networks. Saying good morning when someone enters the elevator rather than staring at the floor in silence can make a difference. At Marriott, the expectation is that everyone contribute to creating a positive community in the workplace. This message is reinforced in meetings, at events, and with various awards for contributing to the culture.

Define civility. When establishing specific principles you want employees to follow in how they treat others, I’ve found that it’s beneficial to engage them in an ongoing conversation about what civility means. These discussions garner more support and empower employees to hold one another accountable for civil behavior.

In the Irvine, California office of law firm Bryan Cave, managing partner Stuart Price and I led employees through an exercise to define collective norms. We asked participants: “Who do you want to be?” And then we asked them what norms were right for their organization. They named rules for which they were willing to hold one another accountable and in just over an hour, employees generated and agreed upon ten norms. The firm bound these into a “civility code,” which they prominently display in their lobby. According to Price, this code was directly responsible for the firm being ranked number one on Orange County’s Best Places to Work list.

Bryan Cave’s Code of Civility

o We greet and acknowledge each other.
o We say please and thank you.
o We treat each other equally and with respect, no matter the conditions.
o We acknowledge the impact of our behavior on others.
o We welcome feedback from each other.
o We are approachable.
o We are direct, sensitive, and honest.
o We acknowledge the contributions of others.
o We respect each other’s time commitments.
o We address incivility immediately and directly.

[Note: In the healthiest organizations, this behavior is considered normal.]

Give employees skills.

It’s not enough to define norms. You also have to train employees to understand and respect them. When Christine Pearson and I asked people in one survey why they were uncivil, more than 25% blamed their organization for not providing them with the basic skills they needed, such as listening and giving feedback. If your employees aren’t behaving well, and you’ve already gone through the trouble of hammering home the organization’s civility message, ask yourself, “Have I also equipped them to succeed?” Don’t assume everyone instinctively knows how to be civil; many people never learned the basic skills.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Christine Porath is a professor of management at Georgetown University and the author of Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace.


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