Rudeness at Work: What Leaders Can Do

  • 3 mins read

Leaders can have a tremendous positive (or negative) impact on the incidence of rudeness. Many leaders are under extraordinary pressure to do more with less, which often impacts their own well-being and tolerance levels. I hear stories about incredible executive stress in the sessions I do coaching.
In a blog by Australian speaker Graeme Cowan, The Surprising Costs of Workplace Rudeness, he writes that the two main strategies for reducing rudeness are relatively straightforward:

  1. 1. Stay physically and mentally healthy.
  2. 2. Model the right behavior.

“There has never been a more important time for leaders to place priority on their own health. Identify strategies that boost your energy level. Take stock of your purpose, passions and positive strengths to become more robust and resilient.”

Every person is different, but common habits that improve resilience include regular exercise, eating well and getting enough rest. It’s also essential to develop supportive relationships and outside interests.
It can take constant vigilance to keep the workplace civil. Let your guard down, and rudeness tends to creep into everyday interactions. Incorporate the following strategies to foster civility:

  • Manage Your Own Behavior. Leaders set the tone, so be aware of your actions and how others perceive you. What you say and do is weighted and easily magnified. Model good behavior (actions and words) and emotional intelligence. In one survey, 25% of managers who admitted to behaving badly said their leaders and role models were rude. If those who climb the corporate ladder tolerate or embrace uncivil behavior, employees are likely to follow suit. So, turn off your iPhone during meetings, pay attention to questions, and follow up on promises.
  • Express Appreciation. People need to know they’re valued. Be alert for what they do right, and let them know you’ve noticed their hard work and progress. People become frustrated when their efforts go unrewarded, thereby setting the stage for rudeness.
  • Apply the 5:1 Ratio. According to psychology researchers Barbara Fredrickson and Marcel Losada, teams are most effective when they hear feedback that is 5:1 positive to negative. Yet, work groups more often focus on what’s wrong instead of what’s right. It’s not that leaders should be blind to negative performance. They must, however, express 500% more appreciation than criticism if they want to see progress.
  • Recognize Small Achievements. Making progress on meaningful work is the most energizing and motivating event an information worker can experience, note Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011). Effective leaders acknowledge even small improvements on a regular basis. This means employees must understand their exact roles within your company.
  • Establish a Positive Culture. Employees with a positive mood are 31% more productive, sell 37% more and are 300% more creative, notes business consultant Shawn Achor in Positive Intelligence (Harvard Business Review, February 2012). Create a positive mood by supporting physical activity: walking meetings or flexible work hours that allow for daily exercise.

What are other things leaders can do to help reduce rudeness and incivility in the office? I’d love to hear from you.

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