The Power of Civility

The Idea: I had the good fortune to be invited to an Open Compliance and Ethics Group (OCEG) Leadership Council last year. We were treated to a presentation by Dr. Christine Pearson, Professor of Global Leadership at Thunderbird University, called “The Power of Civility.” Every participant at the Council remarked on it as one of the high points of the event and its impact on me has endured ever since.

The Execution: Dr. Pearson’s research shows that incivility causes high, unaccounted for costs. The corollary to that is improved civility increases productivity, commitment, retention, satisfaction/happiness, creativity, cooperation, and health. Increasing civility is a good business idea. But what does incivility mean and what can we do to decrease it?

Dr. Pearson’s definition of incivility: Seemingly inconsequential, inconsiderate words and deeds employee-to-employee. Lack of mutual respect among employees.

What does incivility look like?

  • Taking too much credit for collaborative work.
  • Keeping people waiting needlessly for appointments.
  • Talking down to others.
  • Delaying access to information or resources.
  • Acting irritated when someone asks for your help.
  • Dismissing/ignoring others’ ideas.
  • Spreading rumors about colleagues.
  • Grabbing the best assignments; leaving the worst.
  • Hibernating in e-gadgets or emailing/texting during meetings.

It seems to me that internal auditors are often the target of incivility in the workplace based on the nature of our work. It’s often okay to roll one’s eyes and joke in various ways about “the auditors,” and we’ve all experienced push back on our need for documentation, meetings, or access to information. It can feel personal. A thick skin is a job requirement, yet we’re human. Being human, it’s sometimes enticing to counter incivility with … more incivility. There’s a momentary pleasure in giving back what’s being dished out. But at what cost?

Dr. Pearson’s research quantified the impact of incivility and the numbers are sobering:

  • 47 percent cut back time at work.
  • 63 percent lose work time worrying about their offender.
  • 66 percent cut back effort at work.
  • 78 percent say their commitment to their organization declines.
  • Half consider leaving.
  • 1 in 8 actually leaves:
    • Taking knowledge, networks, and experience (they’ll report a different reason).
    • Often after waiting months or years, so there is a time lag between incivility and exit.
  • 88 percent get even with their organizations (fraud risk, internal auditors!).
  • 94 percent get even with their offenders.
  • … and these numbers regard targets of incivility only, rather than “innocent bystanders.”
  • Costs can easily be in the millions.

What’s Dr. Pearson’s prescription for you to take ASAP? What to do personally? “Ooze civility.”

  • Listen better.
  • Smile more.
  • Sincerely say please, thank you, excuse me, I’m sorry.
  • Think before you speak.
  • Seek feedback. Make sure you’re civil.
  • Practice the 10/5 rule (eye contact at 10 ft.; verbal greeting at 5 ft.)
  • Extend yourself, especially to people who tend to be ignored.
  • Drop arrogance. Appreciate why humility rules.
  • Admit when you don’t know.
  • Share recognition/praise (high performing teams get 6 times as much positive feedback; low performing teams receive 2 times more negative feedback).
  • Be generous, including time.
  • Hire with vigilance. Don’t let uncivil people in your door.
  • Live up to your organization’s values.

Will increasing our civility help our stakeholders see us as trusted advisers? Perhaps. Will it make you feel good as an auditor and a person? Absolutely. See if you can fill this prescription starting today. Doctor’s orders!  

Posted on Apr 15, 2014 by Carolyn Saint

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