Since the workplace is a reflection of society at large, we see a gamut of behaviors that demonstrate a lack of respect and civility within today’s organizations. These disrespectful and uncivil behaviors take a toll on employees, customers and the overall organization. Unless changes are initiated to counter these trends, decreased productivity, commitment and profits are among the results that can be anticipated.
Instituting positive change requires a focus on eliminating disrespectful behaviors, such as rudeness, cursing, angry outbursts, gossiping, acting or speaking condescendingly, cliquishness, bullying and harassment. It also requires attentiveness to reinforcing behaviors that are respectful, such as listening, inclusion, conflict prevention and resolution, integrity, courteousness and responsiveness.
While there are no magic wands that can be waved to create desired results instantaneously, there are actions that employers and individuals can take to influence respectful and civil workplace interactions. Employers can establish a culture in which respect and civility are incorporated into the organization’s values; develop behavioral expectations; provide training; and ensure that those in leadership positions act as role models.
Individuals can take steps that include the following to accomplish these objectives:
- Develop an awareness of personal triggers that have the potential to create anger or frustration. Take measures to prevent and eliminate those within your control. Look for ways to resolve interpersonal issues and build more productive workplace relationships.
- Apply self restraint when faced with stressful situations. Pause before reacting. Choose to act in a manner that demonstrates respect for others, maintains self respect and accomplishes overall objectives.
- Be specific when there is a need to describe behaviors that require change. Generalizations, such as telling others what they have always or never done, will lead to defensive reactions and not accomplish intended results.
- Treat others respectfully on a consistent basis, even at times when you do not believe that respect is warranted. Handle employment actions, including discipline and termination, in a manner that enables those involved to maintain a sense of self worth and dignity.
- Base employment-related decisions on facts rather than assumptions, stereotypes, or other non-objective factors. An analysis of relevant facts increases the accuracy of your decisions and decreases the potential of damaged workplace relationships and legal liabilities.
- Create an environment that values individual differences and perspectives. Take advantage of opportunities to encourage diverse opinions.
- Be respectful in all aspects of your communications. Assess your effectiveness in areas, such as tone of voice, words, body language and listening. Also focus on your telephone, e-mail and other written communications, recognizing that communicating is more difficult when visual cues, such as body language, are missing.
- Use humor selectively and only when it will not result in disrespect toward others. While humor can provide an opportunity to relieve stress and create a positive work environment, it also can be offensive and a potential source of harassment if directed at others or otherwise used inappropriately.
- Guard against gossiping or making negative comments about individuals who are not present by asking yourself if you would make the same remarks if they could hear what you are saying. Before engaging in these types of conversations, remember that they can harm workplace relationships and create a sense of distrust. Be mindful of the Spanish proverb, “Whoever gossips to you will gossip about you.”
- Recognize that others’ time is as important as yours. Stay focused when engaged in activities, such as attending meetings, sending and responding to e-mails, and talking on the phone. Respect deadlines. Let others know in advance if unanticipated situations create a need for extensions.
- Apply a solution-driven approach to resolve conflicts. Avoid unproductive actions, such as becoming defensive, name calling, or making accusations. Identify and examine alternatives to reach resolution. Continuously keep your overall objectives in mind.
- View difficult situations from a broader perspective by considering what they mean in the overall scheme of things. Reflect on how you will view these circumstances from a future vantage point, such as a week, month or year later.
- Take responsibility for your actions. Acknowledge mistakes rather than shifting the blame to others.
- Avoid attempts to advance your views or status at the expense of others. Understand that these types of comments and actions are often transparent to those present and will reflect negatively on your professional image.
- Monitor your communications and actions regularly to gauge your success in demonstrating respect and to identify opportunities for improvement. Remember that sustained results require intent.
- Become a role model for respectful and civil interactions in your workplace. Consistently influence interactions by demonstrating respect for others, the organization and yourself.
*Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Memphis Business Journal