Demand Civility – Quash Bad Workplace Behaviors

Written by S.Chris Edmonds

You get what you tolerate. If you enable bad behavior – by ignoring it, by demanding it to stop but then doing nothing when it continues, by modeling bad behavior yourself, etc. – that behavior occurs more frequently.


One afternoon I saw an example of such firsthand as two senior leaders engaged in a screaming match in the office. They cursed and yelled at each other in full view of 30 employees. Their behavior was disrespectful and appalling. It was uncomfortable and embarrassing to watch.


I asked the company president about the argument. He said, “I know. It happens all the time.” I asked, “Why do you tolerate that bad behavior?” He replied, “I told them to stop.”


I stated the obvious: “Telling them to stop has not caused them to stop. You’re tolerating incivility and disrespect, which erodes performance, engagement, and service.” The president knew all that. He was frustrated and didn’t know how to make his senior leaders behave.


Bad behavior in our workplaces is all too common. Workplace civility expert Christine Porath has found that 98 percent of employees she has interviewed over the past twenty years have experienced uncivil behavior at work. In 2016, 62% of the respondents said they were treated badly at least once a month.


Here are the “top four” bad workplace behaviors that you need to quash, right now. They are listed from the “somewhat benign” to the “most damning.”


  1. Demeaning, Discounting, and Dismissing – The three “D’s” happen so often and so casually at work, it seems like they’re not that big of a problem; however, they are gateway behaviors to much worse behavior. This combination has no beneficial impact on the players, the work, or the business. The three “D’s” are always used to “prove” that the deliverer is smarter, better, more capable, etc. than the receiver. In positive workplaces, ideas can be debated loudly and assertively AND people are treated civilly and kindly, no matter what.


  1. Lying – This one is often known as “lying, cheating, stealing.” What happens when people lie, when they take credit for others’ work when they say they’re done but haven’t started when they “bend the rules” to accommodate their desires? They get found out – their lie is exposed to the light of day. Lying to protect a colleague is still lying. Telling an untruth – no matter how small – erodes confidence and performance. Telling the truth, on the other hand, builds confidence and boosts performance.


  1. Tantrums – Yelling, cursing, throwing things, slamming doors – now we’re getting to mad skills, meaning “one is highly skilled at demonstrating one’s anger!” These actions mask the underlying problem(s). It makes the issue all about the tantrum-thrower rather than about root cause: missed promises or lies or a lack of skills, etc.  If left unaddressed, everyone who works with the tantrum-thrower is forced to accommodate the brute’s whims, walking on eggshells every day. Instead, one who is selfless and serves the team as a whole will encourage unity and moving forward toward real improvements.


  1. Bullying – this is by far the most harmful of bad workplace behaviors. The Workplace Bullying Institute defines bullying as abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating, and humiliating. One of the organization’s most recent studies found that 27 percent of American workers have current or past direct experience with abusive conduct at work, and 72 percent are aware of workplace bullying. The most troublesome finding was that 72 percent of employers deny, discount, rationalize or defend bullying. Bullying in any form destroys workplace trust, respect, and dignity.


If you demand civility – ensuring everyone is treated with trust, respect, and dignity in every interaction – civil behavior occurs more frequently. These four bad behaviors ruin any chance of a positive, productive culture. Don’t tolerate them – quash them.

Contributed by S. Chris Edmonds, Founder and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group. 

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