Civility in America should be an inalienable right. Americans have a right to defend their names and explain their actions and opinions, but the increasing unruliness in the public square is worrisome and demands attention and new solutions.
~ Jack Leslie, Chairman of Weber Shandwick
This time of year tends to bring out the best and worst in all of us, we are constantly reminded to do good throughout the holiday season, starting with Thanksgiving and ending somewhere around New Year’s Day. These holidays remind us that we are ALL humans, sharing this little planet we call earth.
However, lately I have noted a disturbing trend of incivility, at the workplace and everywhere. Sometimes, the consequences of these acts culminates in injury and the loss of life, as we have witnessed during Black Friday’s most popularized incidents of pepper-spray and blood in the shopping aisles. These type of incidents where not isolated, and in fact there are reports of this happening from coast to coast, one of the worst was in a mall parking lot near Atlanta, GA where two men got into a parking spot altercation and one shot the other dead.
Watching this video makes me think of how sharks react during a feeding frenzy.
In fact, according to the study “Civility in America 2011″ conducted by KRC Research, most Americans report they have been victims of incivility (86%). Their most common encounters with rude or disrespectful behavior come while driving (72%) or shopping (65%).
The study also reveals that Americans admit to perpetrating incivility — approximately six in 10 (59%) Americans acknowledge that they themselves have been uncivil.
It’s not only in the shopping mall, but also in professional exchanges that I have noticed ruder language and uncivil behaviors, on occasion leading to violence. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) defines incivility as “seemingly inconsequential inconsiderate words and deeds that violate conventional workplace conduct.” The study found that 86% of Americans report they have been victims of incivility. The same survey also found that over a third of the respondents believe incivility in the workplace is on the rise.
I have also heard from jobseekers who are experiencing a tremendous amount of incivility from recruiters and employers alike – and it’s not just the unanswered phone calls and questions, it’s just plain rude responses, with a total lack of compassion. Often times people mask their rude behavior by saying something like “it’s my honest opinion” “I’m going to give it to you straight” etc.
Incivility can come from co-workers or the public sector, in the 2009 Institute of Education Science (IES) School Principal Survey on Crime and Safety, approximately 11% of school principals reported that students were verbally abusive to their middle and high school teachers.
The cost of rudeness and incivility
In the 2009 book The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What To Do About It, my former Thunderbird Professor Christine Pearson and Christine Porath say that the problem of incivility in the workplace has been compounded by our increasing tolerance of nasty behavior as a culture.
Surveys by researchers Porath and Erez, indicate that in the workforce, after experiencing rudeness most people lose time and focus, work less and slack off more, and think more about leaving the organization. In addition, 94% of people get even with the rude person or with their organization (88%).
Does this have a deeper meaning?
The latest scientific research backs up with detailed molecular and cellular mechanisms what June Cleaver (and we) always knew intuitively, that through adolescence, the human brain is molded by the social environment in which a child is reared. A disrespectful, stressful social environment is a neurotoxin for the brain and psyche, and the scars are permanent.
~ Dr. Douglas Fields Neurobiologist; Author, The Other Brain
- Are common courtesy civility, manners, and politeness a thing of the past?
- Are Americans becoming ruder as the economy is spiraling downward?
- What happened to our society?
According to Neurologist Dr. Douglas Fields – people (and animals) living together in large numbers must develop strict formalized behaviors governing interactions between all individuals in the group, or there will be strife and chaos. …. “The formal “Yes, Sir, Yes, Ma’am,” is not a showy embellishment in the military; strict respect and formal polite discourse are the hub of the wheel in any effective and cohesive social structure. Stress is a neurotoxin, especially during development of a child’s brain.
During the last 2 years I have traveled extensively, and I am always “shocked” when I encounter a polite culture – it would seem that even the French are far more civil and polite than we are. But it wasn’t always like this, when I was in school we where taught manners and etiquette at a young age, and respect for adults – this is unheard of today – so I hold little hope for the pendulum to swing back any time soon.
So what’s the answer?
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime. ~ Mark Twain
Even though our “society” is becoming ruder, I am trying to stay on track leading with kindness, consideration and respect in business – OK, I don’t always succeed. Not only does this feel right to me, and is in line with my core values, but I believe that people who demonstrate decency and kindness have better relationships. In the end, the kind person wins over the people who have a continual “attitude”.
When people are consistently rude, it’s important to call them out on it. If it entails common courtesy, it’s usually best to deal with it one on one, but if it involves actions potentially perceived as bullying or harassment, it’s a good idea to get human resources, involved.
Take a moment, smile and be kind – it NEVER hurts.