Accountemps found in a 2017 study that CFO executives felt sidetracked on average about 15% of their time negotiating peace among staff member versus the time they could better spend on negotiating business deals. Additional studies reveal similar results across industries and sectors. Envision a week in which leaders and HR professionals spend less time as mediators.
As an EEO complaint investigator and mediator, I can tell you, much of the disruptive conflict is attributed to feelings of disrespect and how people treat each other. Are we to the point where doing nothing to curb uncivil behavior is worse than the discomfort of doing something? I think so, –and employer leaders and HR professionals are getting the message.
Civility training is popping up all over in public and private sector workplaces. EEOC endorsed civility training following the findings of the 2016 “Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace.” In the study, co-chaired by former EEOC Acting commissioner Victoria Lipnic and former commission member Chai Feldblum, it was concluded that companies were focusing more of their time on staying out of trouble versus infiltrating skills that prioritized a more civil and respectful workplace. Christine Porath, a leader in workplace civility research, contends employees are increasingly feeling the wrath of uncivil behaviors where they spend a large portion of their week. Employers are increasingly feeling the need to do something to reverse that trend.
Let’s face it, the real discomfort in creating the civil and respectful workplace is confronting the rude and disrespectful jerk/s. It’s uncomfortable, and it makes our hearts race at increasing speeds. We all know who this person is, or at least, who it is to us. People often take the survival option and retreat by ignoring and avoiding. This option can be particularly when the perpetrator is a top producer or top executive, referred to as “the superstar harasser,” in a 2018 Harvard Business Review article, authored by Lipnic and Chai. The problem with the retreat decision is the behavior does not go away and soon becomes woven into the fabric of the organization.
With newfound engaging workplace skills for addressing uncivil behavior, another problem is emerging that we can’t ignore. The person with the rude and disrespectful behavior that we now feel compelled to approach, after we’ve ignored and avoided for so long, is suddenly feeling they are harassed. I know because my colleagues and I have seen the increase in harassment charges coming forward when they file EEO discrimination complaints. I get it. They haven’t changed. The same behavior they are now more directly scrutinized is the same behavior that worked for them in the past, –when many chose to ignore or avoid. It was the survivalist choice, so you thought, –particularly when the perpetrator was a “superstar.”
Understand, this blog is not about pouncing on the “jerk” and/or the “superstar.” It is about understanding there are two sides to the coin, and the perpetrator can come with many great characteristics and traits with flaws and challenges. Understand, since none of us are perfect, we may be the perpetrator in the mind of someone else. Our diverse backgrounds and experiences define civil and respectful behavior for us. It might be different for the next person. As difficult as conversations may be, frequent, timely, and candid discussions are paramount for creating the civil and respectful culture, we all desire.
If you’ve had civility training and feel empowered to move forward with the serious discussion you know is long past due, I say consider a few things before you act.
If the assessment reveals organizational gaps, compare the patterns and practices that define where you currently are to the practices and organizational held beliefs you desire. The information gathered is a useful tool for leadership and HR professionals to set and re-emphasize the cultural tone. Start a formal communication campaign to ensure everyone is on the same page. The gathered data is the leadership opportunity to:
Addressing subtle and undercover unwanted behaviors may not be easy. The behaviors may not be as clear cut as those described and outlined in HR policies, yet they can be the exact thing, when left untouched, to unravel a team. It is great when organizations have HR policies in place to guide behavior and even better when they have written a mission, vision, and value statement. What seems to be missing is consistent practice and accountability to the desired behaviors.
When team members are accountable to a clearly defined and demonstrated culture of civility, the difficult conversation we talked about earlier becomes less daunting and possibly less frequent. In fact, you may start to see people self-correct themselves and even peer pressure stepping in to assist. Imagine a culture in which civility is the mindset used when addressing conflict and differences!
To advantage yourself towards a successful outcome, try practicing in front of a mirror or recording yourself to examine how your choice of words and expressions may come across. Ask yourself the following question?
The verdict is not out just yet on whether creating more civil organizations in the workplace will change things, and EEOC will see a decrease in harassment complaints, but it is certainly worth a try. You have to decide if it is worth the discomfort in getting there.
Sharon Harrington. She assists organizations in navigating conflict by helping to build skills that embrace prevention measures and create empowering environments that support self-mediation. She is a learning professional who has spent over 25 years, tackling tough issues surrounding charges of unfair treatment in the workplace that reach the attention EEOC.
Sharon E. Harrington, MA, CPLP