Monday, June 22, 2015

The Cost of Workplace Rudeness

It’s one of the first lessons of life coaching or executive coaching. An individual’s mood, attitude and ability to function effectively on the job depends in good part on how he is being managed.

For a long time now, some psychologists have been selling the idea that your problems all go back to your childhood. If you observe reality more closely, you will discover that, regardless of how a child was toilet trained, how well or poorly he has been managed will often have a decisive effect on mental health.

A good manager will motivate the staff. He will instill confidence. He will compliment you on your successes. He will never call you out in public. He will let you do your job and will allow you to take responsibility for how well or poorly you perform. He will make you feel better and to perform more effectively

Among the skills that define a good manager are courtesy, respect, politeness and civility.

A rude manager is a bad manager. A manager who fails to show respect to his staff will demoralize them. A manager who likes to push people around, to tell them what to do, to berate them for their failures… will not have a very well-motivated staff. In the worst cases, he will make his staff sick.

Unfortunately, the message, one that I among others have been trumpeting for years, has not penetrated the minds of many American managers. Apparently, they have becoming more, not less rude.

Georgetown professor Christine Porath has the story in the New York Times:

Rudeness and bad behavior have all grown over the last decades, particularly at work. For nearly 20 years I’ve been studying, consulting and collaborating with organizations around the world to learn more about the costs of this incivility. How we treat one another at work matters. Insensitive interactions have a way of whittling away at people’s health, performance and souls.

Robert M. Sapolsky, a Stanford professor and the author of “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers,” argues that when people experience intermittent stressors like incivility for too long or too often, their immune systems pay the price. We also may experience major health problems, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and ulcers.

Of course, it’s not going to be solved by forcing everyone to suffer through another round of sensitivity training. You would do better to pick up a copy of Miss Manners and learning some basic etiquette. Not because she has a great deal to say about how to manage people, but because she teaches you the basic principles of etiquette. If that does not feel sufficiently serious, you must know that a young George Washington wrote a book about etiquette. Some have suggested that he was just copying what he had read elsewhere, but the book does have value.

Of course, you want to know the different ways that managers behave rudely. Porath has the answer:

Bosses produce demoralized employees through a string of actions: walking away from a conversation because they lose interest; answering calls in the middle of meetings without leaving the room; openly mocking people by pointing out their flaws or personality quirks in front of others; reminding their subordinates of their “role” in the organization and “title”; taking credit for wins, but pointing the finger at others when problems arise. Employees who are harmed by this behavior, instead of sharing ideas or asking for help, hold back.

Porath and her colleagues have found a way to calculate the cost of all the rudeness:

INCIVILITY also hijacks workplace focus. According to a survey of more than 4,500 doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel, 71 percent tied disruptive behavior, such as abusive, condescending or insulting personal conduct, to medical errors, and 27 percent tied such behavior to patient deaths.

My studies with Amir Erez, a management professor at the University of Florida, show that people working in an environment characterized by incivility miss information that is right in front of them. They are no longer able to process it as well or as efficiently as they would otherwise.

Why are managers loath to be nice to the staff? Apparently, the equate niceness with weakness:

Many are skeptical about the returns of civility. A quarter believe that they will be less leader-like, and nearly 40 percent are afraid that they’ll be taken advantage of if they are nice at work. Nearly half think that it is better to flex one’s muscles to garner power. They are jockeying for position in a competitive workplace and don’t want to put themselves at a disadvantage.

One suspects that male and female leaders cannot exhibit civil behavior in the same way. Since there is a greater chance that a female manager will be perceived to be weak, she will be more likely to avoid gestures that denote weakness and perhaps make too much of an effort to appear to be strong.

Happily enough, Porath emphasizes the importance of how others see us, what cues they give us when we interact with them. Therapy notwithstanding, it’s not about how you feel about yourself. It’s about how others see you:

Why is respect — or lack of it — so potent? Charles Horton Cooley’s 1902 notion of the “looking glass self” explains that we use others’ expressions (smiles), behaviors (acknowledging us) and reactions (listening to us or insulting us) to define ourselves. How we believe others see us shapes who we are. We ride a wave of pride or get swallowed in a sea of embarrassment based on brief interactions that signal respect or disrespect. Individuals feel valued and powerful when respected. Civility lifts people. Incivility holds people down. It makes people feel small.

How can a manager overcome rudeness and show respect for staff?

Porath suggests:

Making small adjustments such as listening, smiling, sharing and thanking others more often can have a huge impact. In one unpublished experiment I conducted, a smile and simple thanks (as compared with not doing this) resulted in people being viewed as 27 percent warmer, 13 percent more competent and 22 percent more civil.


Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

My own experience is that rudeness comes from a personalized view of the managerial role -- that it is a status rather than a commitment. Does the manager believe he has authority, or that he is being if service?

I am constantly amazed at how many people talk about all the people who work "under" them. It's a focus on authority, with an authoritarian focus. When one seeks to serve, the authority he wields will occur differently for people... it is to serve the team and company, not his own self-aggrandizement.

This is also true of an overall creative understanding of responsibility... that one is the source of possibility by choosing to be responsible rather than being a victim. A victim views authority as a scarce commodity, which is to be protected and defended. The responsible manager seeks to serve, which is an abundant resource that is created by his way of being.

This may sound esoteric, but it's really about the source and purpose of one's power. Is it for self, others, or both? Scientific management, as practiced by most top U.S. business schools, views people as objects. Leadership appeals to higher realms of the human person, perhaps even the soul. Viewing people as statistics will not provide access to the extraordinary results top leaders produce in a variety of environments or situations.

Coaching and executive development, practiced by true professionals, can support this, but the same distinction of authority vs. service applies.

Anonymous said...

In my early twenties I took a night school course on Management Communications. The professor asked, "What one word best describes the nature of memory?" He went around the room, so I got to hear all the answers he rejected. When he turned to me at last I said, "association." This is the word he wanted to hear.

Years later I read an article by a psychologist discussing ideas attributed to Sigmund Freud, but lacking a specific reference to his publications. If it exists I never did stumble upon the original source. Anyway this author said Freud described how a child forms associations between money, feces, and social obligations during the period when it also experiences toilet training. This also the phallic period because ideas that later form about sex and money have earlier associations. So, for example, a child thinks the father must bring money to please the mother just as he or she is encouraged to make on the toilet and do other socially required things to please the mother. Meanwhile the father, mother, or other adults may express significant personal displeasure or displeasure with the child.

No one can escape the emotions induced by social patterns in early childhood. He or she can only pretend to do so by adopting a role rather than forming actual cordial relationships with others. This is why I hate Doctor Phil, his role of helper on TV could not provide a child with actual cognitive development needs, so a person who really wants to change the world for each individual should not make too much of the role he or she plays in adult life or on TV. Instead he or she should attempt to isolate and describe the real needs of young children which do not include an appetite to make money unless formed via association with the roles of adults. We do want to have some power over our own actions and the actions of others, which is natural, and deprivations cause us to want even more power over others, which one does not have as a child when one's needs are not met.

Sam L. said...

If your boss is a jerk, you don't want to work for him. You may even want to work against him, and there are many, many ways to do that.

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