Time to Act Civilly at Work? Professor Porath Says It Pays Off.
“Nice guys finish last” dies hard as a falsehood. It isn’t true in the aggregate but can seem frustratingly real day- to-day. Now a professor at Georgetown may be on the tail of material proof that civility plumbs the bottom line.
Victor Lipman, a leadership columnist on Forbes.com, connected me through a recent article to a piece by Christine Porath in the New York Times called No Time to be Nice at Work. Porath is a professor who studies the effects of incivility at work (yes!), and has now gathered enough evidence to support her conclusion that nasty boss behavior is bad for the bottom line.
Lipman notes in his article that “after nearly a quarter century in Fortune 500 company management, I came to the firm conclusion that management civility is a difference maker – not because it’s somehow nice or ethical or politically correct…but because it’s effective. It gets results. In an environment where numerous large studies show that only around 30% of employees are fully engaged at work, at a productivity loss exceeding $400 billion a year, civility breeds productivity, not resentment.”
It is hard to avoid a bad mood and snappish behavior when you are stressed and hurried, or when you think someone else’s mistake is going to reflect badly on you. But to keep your team motivated, you have to keep your sour mood unfocused on them.
“Over the long term treating people in a way you wouldn’t want to be treated yourself accomplishes little – except demotivation and demoralization,” wrote Lipman. “Mindset matters. It’s just common sense: Employees have to be in the right mindset to want to do their best for you.”
Let’s move on to Porath’s own conclusions:
“I’ve surveyed hundreds of people across organizations spanning more than 17 industries, and asked people why they behaved uncivilly,” Porath writes. “Over half of them claim it is because they are overloaded, and more than 40% say they have no time to be nice.”
“Saying you don’t have time to treat employees respectfully is akin to saying you don’t have time to treat people in a way that will get good results…which after all is your job as a manager,” wrote Lipman in his concurrence.
The great leader keeps his or her venting behind closed doors or in the parked car before the drive home. In front of the team, conversations about poor performance or mistakes are always focused on how to make the situation better.
So, that’s the takeaway: Treating people civilly at all times is good for performance. Porath has measured this, and confirmed that this theory holds up.
There is a saving grace, as Porath herself notes in the article: Incivility is often inflicted out of ignorance of the impact of the behavior, a cluelessness about how it is received and perceived by those who experience or witness it. Most nasty behavior is “learned” just as good behavior can be. Ask a mean manager why he acts that way, and often the answer is “you mean there is another way? I thought this was the way bosses retained authority.”
So raising your own awareness about how your actions affect others’ motivation is a critical first step in transforming your ability to lead effectively.
It’s just a first step, though. Habits, especially bad ones, are hard to eliminate without the help of those around you. The second step is commitment to change. The third is the hardest: Being humble enough to ask for help, and really accept it.
If you need help with that, we know some folks who can provide it.
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