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Civility and Respect

| December 20, 2016

by Jim Bruce

Civility and Respect?  You might be thinking, why a Tuesday Reading on this subject?
I would have thought so too until several essays by Catherine Porath crossed my desk.  Porath has studied civility and respect for over two decades.  Her studies have clearly demonstrated that civility and being respectful pay off.  She writes:  “It enhances your influence, and performance and is positively associated with being perceived as a leader.”  And, “being respectful doesn’t just benefit you.”  Porath found that “when it comes to gathering commitment and engagement from employees, there’s one thing that leaders need to demonstrate:  respect.”
And, as you might suspect, there are costs to incivility and disrespect.  Porath’s studies reveal that without respect, even if people want to perform well, they simply cannot;  performance plummets when incivility occurs.  In other experiments, just observing incivility caused outcomes to significantly decrease.  People were found to be five times less likely to be attentive to information they see.  Incivility taxes working memory, and in doing so, decreases performance on cognitive tasks.
Porath defines civility as behavior involving politeness and regard for others in the workplace.  The Institute for Civility in Government is helpful by taking this definition further:  “Civility is about more than just politeness, although politeness is a necessary first step.  It is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same.  Civility is the hard work of staying present even with those with whom we have deep-rooted and fierce disagreements. … [I]t is about negotiating interpersonal power such that everyone’s voice is heard, and nobody’s ignored.”
Susan Heathfield writes, “Respect is when you feel admiration and deep regard for an individual.  You believe that the person is worthy of your regard and admiration because of the good qualities and capabilities that they bring to your workplace.”  She goes on to say that you show your respect by acting in ways that show you are aware of your colleagues as people who deserve respect and to be treated with civility.
In her essays, Porath reports that being treated with civility and respect is more important to employees than “recognition and appreciation, communicating an inspiring vision, providing useful feedback or opportunities for learning, growth, and development.”
Her research reports that just over half (54%) of employees claimed that they don’t regularly get respect from their leaders.  In a companion study about why individuals are disrespectful and behave uncivilly, over 60% of those surveyed claimed they were overloaded and had no time to be nice.  This seemed to Porath to be a “hollow” excuse as being civil and respectful isn’t about the time it takes.  It’s about “how” something is conveyed, about the tone, the words, and the non-verbal communication and not something that is separate and taking additional time.
And, 25% said they don’t have a role model for respect and civility in their organization.  They just behave as their leaders do.  Also, 4% claim that they are uncivil because it’s fun and they can get away with it.
Porath’s studies also revealed that people often don’t realize how being disrespectful and uncivil affect others.  She believes that the vast majority of disrespect and uncivil behavior stems from a lack of self-awareness.  Daniel Goleman, widely recognized for introducing the term “emotional intelligence” to a wide audience, says that “Self-awareness means having a deep understanding of one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and drives.  People with strong self-awareness are neither overly critical nor unrealistically hopeful.  Rather, they are honest – with themselves and with others.”
And, this brings us to the question what specifically do we do to show respect and civility?  We might begin by taking the time to reflect on how we interact with others.  Am I self-aware?  If not, maybe I need to do work on that skill?  If you’re not aware of how you treat others, ask a trusted friend.  You might find out, as others have, that there are some things you need to work on.  And, if that’s the case, do take the time to clean up your “act.” 
[Note:  In the list of references at the end of this essay, you’ll find specific lists of behaviors you might choose to work on in the essays by Susan Heathfield, John Hall, Rich Suttle, and Barbara Richman.  I’ve also included a link, here, to George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Behavior.  While some of our first president’s rules are, from today’s perspective, a bit silly and out of date, many provide valuable lessons for us and lead us to ask questions and reflect.]
If we are “aware,” we can see examples of our own, and others’, incivility and disrespect all the time:  yelling, calling people names, insulting others, using vulgar language, arriving late for meetings, gossiping, focusing on your cellphone or laptop while someone is talking, taking a cellphone call during a meeting, etc.   When we find ourselves doing these things, we need to stop.  And when we see others who are on our team or in our sphere of influence doing them, we need to step up and ask them to stop.  Small lapses in behavior, do lead to escalation and small offenses lead to more aggressive bullying and harassment.  Then, before you realize it, you find that a zone of disrespect and incivility has been created.  And, when that happens your work and that of your organization has been significantly impacted.
I’m a firm believer that each of us can benefit from some self-introspection in this area.  Being respectful and civil, in all aspects of one’s life – family, friends, work, and other aspects of our private and public lives – is important.  Taking some time now, as the year ends in preparation for the beginning of a new year, to reflect on how we stand would be a good investment for each of us to make.
And, that is what I urge you to do in this holiday season.  Best wishes as you celebrate with friends and family in the coming days.  The Tuesday Reading will return in the New Year on January 3, 2017.
.  .  .    jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.
Civility and Respect
Christine Porath, The Leadership Behavior That’s Most Important to Employees, Harvard Business Review.
Christine Porath, Half of Eq1rmployees Don’t Feel Respected by Their Bosses, Harvard Business Review.
Christine Porath, Alexandra Gerbasi, Sebastian Schorch, The Effects of Civility on Advice, Leadership, and Performance, Journal of Applied Psychology.
Coleen Sharen, Why Civility and Manners Should Matter to Leaders, Thinking is Hard Work.
Susan Heathfield, How to Demonstrate Respect in the Workplace, the balance.
John Hall, 11 Simple Ways To Show Your Employees You Care, Forbes.
Barbara Richman, Ten Tips for Creating Respect and Civility in Your Workplace, Lorman Educational Services.
Rick Shuttle, How to Treat Employees with Respect to Increase Productivity, Chron, the website of the Houston Chronicle.
George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation,  Foundations Magazine’s website.
Daniel Goleman, What Makes a Leader?, Harvard Business Review.
Paul Jun, Why Self-Awareness Is the Secret Weapon for Habit