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Bring Courtesy Back to the Workplace

| April 9, 2013

by Jim Bruce

Ron Ashkenas, managing partner of Schaffer Consulting and author of The GE Work-Out and Simply Effective begins his essay in the HBR blog with the declaration that “Respect towards others should be standard behavior in the workplace, regardless of role, rank, or reputation.”  Sounds like a reasonable proposition, not only for work but for all of life.  Certainly, in the not-to-distant past, the majority of work was either face-to-face or via real-time.  These personal interactions allowed people to get to know each other and create human connections.  They also fostered courtesy.

In today’s world, however, most of the communication is neither face-to-face nor real-time.  The result is that much more of today’s work is conducted impersonally, which may mean that there is less pressure to observe social standards.  Recent studies support this possibility.

In the absence of high-touch, personal communications, managers are reporting significant breakdowns in courtesy and respect, exacerbated by workplace stress.

Ashkenas makes two suggestions to restore civility on your team:

  1. Hold an all-hands meeting of your team and talk openly about the kind of behaviors you expect from each other.  Having an open dialogue can re-orient your team, making it more aware of workplace courtesy and respect and when it’s lacking.
  2. Encourage your team and your colleagues to (courteously and privately) push back on bad behaviors when they occur.  Bad behavior often occurs in the heat of the moment, often without the offenders realizing their impact.  Calling out the behaviors will often have the impact of helping offenders hold themselves accountable for their behaviors and improving.

Perhaps this is an issue that you need to address with your staff and your team.  At a minimum, do stop and think about opportunities you have this week to improve the civility in your environment.

. . . jim