Be Nice to Your Coworkers

Small gestures of kindness can make a big difference in the workplace.

Robert Saxon, Military Intern Nov 6, 2018

Many of us may have vivid memories of working for a boss or a fellow employee who was not respectful to coworkers. They seemed to enjoy spending the day making others feel small, disregarded or excluded. The atmosphere may have even been toxic. At a minimum, the level of workplace stress was very high. Some employees may have quit their jobs while others stuck it out trying to overcome daily attendance, motivation and performance issues resulting from the disrespectful behavior.

According to Christine Porath, associate professor of management and a researcher at Georgetown University, how you show up and treat people at work means everything.

During a presentation about civility, Porath spoke about why being nice to coworkers is good for business. She believes that small, uncivil actions can lead to much bigger problems like aggression and violence affecting performance and the bottom line. She recounts the personal story of seeing her father in the hospital because of work-related stress due to an uncivil boss, and adds that she witnessed and experienced constant incivility during her first job.

Porath defines incivility as disrespect or rudeness and says it can take the form of mocking, belittling, teasing, or even texting in meetings.

Data from Porath’s survey of more than 20,000 employees worldwide show that what people want most from their bosses and coworkers at work is to simply be treated with respect and dignity. In fact, respect is more important than recognition and appreciation, useful feedback, and even opportunities for learning. Those that felt respected were healthier, more focused, more likely to stay with their organization and far more engaged.

Porath views incivility as a virus because it is contagious, and we become carriers of it just by being around it. Unfortunately, workers can catch this virus anywhere – at home, online, in schools and in communities. It affects our emotions, our motivation, our performance, how we treat others and can take some of our brainpower.

Author and small business consultant Johnny Duncan believes that in workplaces with little or no respect, employees report more conflicts, misunderstandings, lower attendance and loss of productivity. In his blog, Six Transformative Benefits of Respect In the Workplace, Duncan emphasizes that incivility can make work a burden for employees, creating an environment of jealousy, backstabbing, harassment, micromanagement and missed assignments.

Duncan believes that something as simple as greeting people on the street, in the store, at the gym, or in the workplace can seem like such a chore. However, saying “good morning” isn’t just being polite, it is showing respect for another person by simply acknowledging that they exist. In his blog, Duncan writes that workforce respect contributes to job satisfaction, increases employee engagement and boosts productivity. Respectful behaviors can lift employee spirits while instilling confidence and offering much-needed encouragement.

How do we show more respect for and civility towards coworkers? For some, treating others in a respectful way comes very naturally. For others, it requires constant focus. High stress workplaces and cutthroat or win-at-any-cost business models may often breed incivility in the workforce.

In her research, Porath found that small things can make a big difference and have impact, for example, smiling, saying hello in the hallway, thanking people, sharing credit, listening attentively, humbly asking questions, and acknowledging others.

In a recent blog, Susan M. Heathfield, a management and organization development consultant, shared ways to demonstrate respect in the workplace – the kind of respect that enables leaders and their employees. Her ideas include:

  • Treat people with courtesy, politeness, and kindness.
  • Encourage coworkers to express opinions and ideas.
  • Listen to what others have to say.
  • Never speak over, butt in, or cut off another person.
  • Never insult people, use name calling, disparage or put down people or their ideas.
  • Don't nit-pick, belittle, judge, demean or patronize.
  • Be aware of your body language, the tone of voice, and your demeanor and expression.
  • Include all coworkers in meetings, discussions, training, and events when possible.
  • Praise much more frequently than you criticize.

With a better understanding of the importance of respect and civility in the workplace and between employees, all that remains is a commitment – a commitment to do better, to lift others up, to smile more, to greet people, and spread civility in our homes, workplaces and communities. Following through on the commitment daily will help maintain a motivated, engaged and productive workforce, while strengthening a positive organizational culture.

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