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5 Things You Can Do to Reduce Workplace Incivility

In the federal sector, rules of engagement are clearly defined. EEO regulations prohibit discrimination, bullying, harassment (sexual or otherwise), gender bias, age bias, etc. Those behaviors tend to be overt and employees can address them through the grievance process or other remedies.

Incivility is not as clear cut.

What is Incivility?

If someone uses an unfriendly tone, or forgets to include your name on the meeting invitation, or rolls their eyes when you begin to speak during the meeting, does that indicate malicious intent or are they simply having a bad day? The challenge lies in identifying if the person exhibiting those bad behaviors actually has bad intentions. The uncertainty of intention can create stress for the person receiving or observing that behavior. That stress is so impactful that it can erode workplace relationships, diminish morale, and create physical health problems. Here are a few more examples of how incivility can show up in the workplace:

  • Not listening
  • Not returning phone calls or e-mails
  • Using vulgar language
  • Criticizing people in public
  • Not recognizing everyone’s strengths and contributions to the team
  • Failing to speak to others in the hallway
  • Routinely showing up late for appointments and meetings
  • Interrupting conversations or meetings
  • Engaging in gossip
  • Addressing people in an unprofessional manner (i.e. kid, child, girl, boy)

5 Things You Can Do to Reduce Workplace Incivility:

  1. Practice Common Courtesy– Saying “excuse me”, “good morning”, “good afternoon”, “please” and “thank you” never gets old!
  2. Cut Back on the “Snark-asim” (i.e. snarky, sarcastic comments)- what seems like clever or dry humor to you could feel abrasive or bitter to the listener.
  3. Be Mindful – Watch your tone and choose your words wisely. If you wouldn’t send it to your Mom, then you probably shouldn’t send it out to colleagues.
  4. Be Considerate – You can be polite and caring with others, even if you are not in agreement with them.
  5. Listen – When someone else is speaking, give them your undivided attention.

In the federal sector, OPM issues annual surveys to measure job satisfaction, but there have been few studies which specifically explore how incivility impacts staff. If you’d like to share your experience with incivility in the federal workplace, please click on the link below. The survey will take approximately 20 minutes to complete (but most participants complete it in less than 10 minutes), and it is completely anonymous (i.e. no need to provide your name, geographic location or the name of your agency). Participation is voluntary and you can discontinue at any time. Here is the survey link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/IncivilityStudy.

Wanda Pemberton is a coach, author, and doctoral candidate at Walden University. This incivility study is being conducted solely for academic purposes. Views expressed in the article do not represent her agency.  

Wanda Pemberton is also part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Avatar photo Blake Martin

I wasn’t familiar with the term ‘incivility’ until reading this piece, and I think your tips to reduce it are very helpful. We’ve all been in a situation at some point with coworkers who just refuse to keep it positive/professional.

Wanda Pemberton

Thanks Blake! I appreciate your feedback. Civility doesn’t mean that you have to avoid disagreements, but you can choose to do so without being disagreeable. Incivility feels like disrespect, but its harder to define than other egregious behaviors . . . because the intent is not always clear. To learn more about incivility you can read Trust Your Canary: Every Leader’s Guide to Taming Workplace Incivility, by Sharone Bar-David, Understanding Everyday Incivility: Why Are They So Rude? by Shelley D. Lane, or The Price of Incivility (Harvard Business Review).

Jennifer Singleton

Very important topic to address, Wanda, thank you. You’re right, these behaviors are harder to define and many don’t speak about it out of fear of appearing too sensitive, or looking for a problem when there is none. Sometimes alienating someone or displaying negative body language can be just as hurtful as a verbal insult.