Workplace Civility Pays Dividends

leadership business cultureFascinating read in this weekend’s NY Times Op-ed regarding civility in the workplace. Not that this should come as a surprise to anyone in the workforce, but being nice is actually good for the bottom line. Amazing how simple things that are good for us are also good for the company.

Cultural myths say that “being mean” or “hard-nosed” are good traits for a boss, and that in order to get compliance, you must be tough, strong, etc. Well, it turns out that kindness has better results. Being rude or demeaning to someone has never motivated anyone to want to do something for you or to help the company out. On the contrary, they are now motivated to get back at you or the organization, hide, gossip, do as little as possible or go elsewhere. All of which are a tremendous cost to the organization on multiple levels from morale to productivity.

I was in a meeting once as a fairly new CEO and inquired about a particular metric. The COO all but called me an idiot and pointed out that they knew what they were doing. I watched the faces of the rest of the staff in the room and they all avoided eye contact with me, which led me to believe this was a common occurrence. I didn’t say anything in the moment but took the person aside after the meeting and asked why she responded with such condescension. Her response was even more surprising and she said that she knew I could take it, but she wanted to show how she was standing up for her team. I calmly explained how she actually had the opposite effect and bottom line, it was rude and uncivil and no one should be spoken to that way…ever again.

I later found out that the entire company was run by fear of her and although no one would directly confront her, it was hurting creativity, security and performance. This type of behavior leads to poor performance, not compliance as is pointed out in the article.

What’s interesting is that without any formal programs, training, leadership initiatives or money, it’s very easy to start a civility movement with a few easy steps:

  • Listen more, talk less
  • Make eye contact regularly
  • Say thank you
  • Acknowledge good work
  • Share more
  • Smile
  • Turn off the e-gadgets when interacting face-to-face with your team

People want to work where they are treated well. They want to buy from people that are not rude and want to be treated as they treat others. It seems so simple and yet we have this perception that bullies win, that berating someone is “tough love” and that good leaders can get away with murder if they increase the bottom line of an organization. They can, but only for a short time. Long term success comes from civility to all those you touch. It defines who you are and what you do. It’s leadership.