Managing Rudeness at Work

Psychologists find that experiencing rudeness at work from customers and colleagues increases absenteeism and decreases sales performance. That doesn’t mean that managers can’t step in and improve things. Psychologist Michael Leiter says:

“A big part of the intervention is just to get people to talk about their relationships rather than just getting ticked off with people and complaining to their friends… That’s part of your professional responsibility: to maintain good working relationships just like you maintain equipment and report breakdowns… You don’t have to wait until people get cynical or quit in disgust; it’s something management can do something about.”

Incivility is a solvable problem, not something you have to put up with... it's something management can do something about. - Professor Michael Leiter Psychologist
Incivility is a solvable problem. – Professor Michael Leiter, psychologist

Quote via the American Psychological Association.


2 thoughts on “Managing Rudeness at Work

  1. I am relieved to see that incivility at work is not ‘inevitable’ – that’s how it is often described. Who starts the conversation about relationships between coworkers? there are all kinds of power dynamics at play at the lowest ranking staff may be constrained to engage the ‘old boys’ network’ that sets the tone for communication patterns. Where is the research on how junior/midlevel staff can begin the discussion with senior staff, especially when senior staff are the most uncivil in the office?

    1. Hi Kai, thanks for your comment! The issue you’ve raised is about power. Senior members of staff have more power and therefore if they are causing and/or contributing to incivility this can make it more difficult to address. This is why mediation is important. Junior staff should approach their supervisor and HR and ask for a mediator to resolve these issues. Beyond the ethical objective to look after staff, it is in the corporate interest to resolve incivility – as I noted, it leads to poor health, which affects productivity, and it contributes to workplace bullying, which leaves a workplace open to a lawsuit.

      I would approach it in the spirit of resolution in the first instance, by speaking with a supervisor first, or if they are part of the problem, writing an email or letter to HR and one’s supervisor outlining the behaviour with clear examples. To anyone facing incivility, make sure you keep a diary of what’s being said or what’s happening with as much detail as possible. Dates, names and a description with clear examples of what was said, and what was done to whom. Use this as evidence when approaching supervisors/HR. I always encourage the “I Am” statement approach, which has three parts: the behaviour; how it makes you feel; and what you’d like to happen to resolve the conflict. Don’t lead with emotional accusations, start with describing the situation. For example:

      “When [you/ my manager] does [this specific behaviour/said this specific thing on Monday the 16th of March] I feel [under-valued, unappreciated, bullied to produce work under stressful conditions, etc]. This is affecting my work and productivity. I would like a proactive plan to target this behaviour in the workplace. I think an impartial, outside mediator might help to change the unproductive culture in our workplace.”

      The important thing to remember is that the law is on the side of staff. Asking for an outside mediator to help resolve incivility is useful because it lets management know that this is a serious issue that requires a professional response. Sometimes managers don’t know they are being rude, or they may be from a different generation where an autocratic way of management was the norm. This is not the norm in 2015. Good leadership means addressing staff needs and making sure the workplace is healthy, and that employees are happy and being treated with respect, from the top down and bottom up.

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