How Civility Patterns Predict the Future

When figuring out the social climate of a workgroup, it’s useful to consider both the strengths of weaknesses. In our workgroup profiles we include positive measures of workplace civility—mutual consideration, politeness, etc.—and negative measures of workplace incivility—rudeness, inconsideration, etc. Usually when civility is low, incivility is relatively high (Incivility Groups); when civility is high, incivility is low (Civility Groups). But not always.

Sometimes a group that is generally civil has frequent encounters with incivility. Perhaps one or two people within the group fail to get along with others. Perhaps a mutually supportive team has regular encounters with coworkers from other workgroups who don’t share their values. I call these groups a Supportive in Adversity.

The flip side includes groups that have low levels of incivility but low levels of civility as well. They are not actively respectful or considerate of one another, but they don’t actually behave badly towards one another either. They are the Flat groups.

Looking over the data from our surveys, it becomes clear that over time, the inconsistent groups—Supportive in Adversity and Flat groups—are not stable. After a year or so, most people in these groups have moved towards the more stable Incivility or Civility groups.

This information is useful because it points towards individuals and groups who are especially susceptible to efforts to improve their worklife. Trying to change a group that is firmly stuck in its ways presents a much bigger challenge than encouraging positive change in a group that is likely to change anyway. A means of identifying those ready to change is a useful tool.

The other interesting point in this analysis is identifying qualities that signal whether a group is inclined to change for better or for worse. Generally, if people believe that behaving rudely to one another is justified—coworkers deserve rudeness—the group is more likely to shift towards Incivility. Groups that refuse to accept that there are legitimate reasons to treat coworkers with disrespect are more likely to change for the better.

What pattern of civility and incivility describes workgroups in your organization?

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