Reacting to Incivility 1: Encouraging Self-Reflection

It is one thing to value collegiality; it is another thing to take action to support that value.

One point of response is reacting when others treat you badly. Another point is reacting when observing someone treating another person badly. Both situations require both the courage to act as well as an ability to act effectively.

Although the capacity to maintain one’s composure while enduring incivility has some admirable qualities, it lacks the impetus to make a difference. Enduring bad behavior avoids escalating the situation into greater intensity, but it does not in itself prompt change.

An important quality of an effective response is reacting in a way that prompts reflection. This idea starts from the idea that much of rude, inconsiderate, or even abusive behavior occurs without much reflection or deliberation. When being uncivil, people are simply doing what comes naturally. They may not intend to cause others discomfort. For example, someone can be talking loudly near one’s work area without reflecting on their impact on other peoples’ capacity to concentrate. The problem is not that they have bad intentions towards others; the problem is that they never give other people a moment’s thought. That lack of consideration is at the heart of incivility, despite its lack of intention.

In this situation, simply ignoring the behavior lacks any momentum towards change. The offenders are not aware of the impact of their behavior. They think everything is fine. They may feel confident that they are acting in accordance with the principles of a respectful, civil workplace.

So action is needed.

That action will be more effective if it focuses on the behavior’s impact on you than on the other person’s intentions. Reading another person’s intentions or motives is very difficult. You could be wrong. Even if correct, attributing intentions may only prompt defensiveness rather than reflection.

Reflection has the power of challenging offenders to align their behavior with their values. After becoming aware of the negative impact their behavior on others, they have more difficulty in maintaining their positive self-image. Most people prefer to think of themselves as considerate and will be motivated to align their behavior accordingly. It strengthens workplace resiliency.

The next post in this series will explore the qualities of effective responses.

In addition to considering unintended incivility, future posts will consider deliberate abuse. These are all focus areas of the CREW program.

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