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Staying civil at work

By Beth Stutsman - Reprinted with permission from The Journal and Courier

While being civil in the workplace doesn't sound hard, it's much harder than most people think. In fact, according to Beverly Sypher, it's rocket science.

"The way we treat one another is rocket science because if it weren't so difficult, we would treat each other better," Sypher said.

Sypher is the associate provost for special initiatives, interim director for Discovery Learning Center, and professor of communication at Purdue University. At a recent women's business network luncheon held at the YWCA, Sypher spoke about how workplace incivility is on the rise.

Patti Graff, marketing and services manager at Kirby Risk, said she once observed incivility through an e-mail written by an employee. "He wrote an e-mail to the whole company that was pretty rude."

Sypher says more obvious incivility includes name calling, accusations of lying, profanity, and pejoratives, or those belittling comments or put downs. But less obvious incivility is found in being disrespectful, angry, rude, discourteous, insensitive or demeaning toward others.

"It's the rolling of the eyes, the intonation of the voice, it's subtle," Sypher said.

Executive vice president of the retail division of Lafayette Bank and Trust Company, Dan Gick, says that whenever he has two employees upset with one another or handles an upset customer, the first thing he tries to do is calm the situation.

"We start to ask some fact-based questions," he said. By doing that "you start to remove some of the emotion out of the situation." Once that's accomplished, a more logical discussion ensues and solutions can be reached.

Reasons for incivility

There are many different reasons why incivility is on the rise.

Sypher cites that excessive workloads, unreasonable deadlines, overcrowded conditions with workers in cubicles, longer working hours, longer commutes, and blurred distinction between work and home among many other things put employees in a bad mood that leads to incivility.

"We have angry people that are working hard and haven't had anything nice said to them lately... What do you think is going to happen?" Sypher said, citing a statistic that one in four workers are chronically angry.

That's why Sypher suggests that people go out of their way to thank each other. "I guarantee you that not being appreciated will make you unhealthy."

She noted that Americans have outpaced all other industrialized nations in terms of hours worked per week and the number of vacation days not taken.

Dianne Larson, owner of The Card Guys, laments the 1970s strict dress codes held by most businesses then. "You addressed everyone as Mr. and Mrs.," she said. She feels the relatively relaxed atmospheres at businesses today contributes to incivility.

Sypher agrees that the formalities that most people consider unnecessary now at least helped to promote more civil behavior then.

Effects on health

According to Sypher, incivility can have a detrimental effect on people's health. She noted that it's gotten so bad that insurance companies are funding research to find out just how much incivility is affecting employees' health.

Sypher cited that incivility causes stress and can lead to sleeplessness, headaches, stomach problems, nausea, depression, sweating, and/or shaking.

She stressed employees value positive and negative feedback from their management the most, and that incivility usually travels downward from management.

"Emotions are contagious -- positive and negative," Sypher said. "Your best strategies are to model."

Kathy Beaver, assistant director for the Bindley Bioscience Center at Purdue's Discovery Park agrees. "It comes from the top down. We have to lead by example."

Tips to promote civility
Find things to thank people for
�Don't use profanity at work
�If you're a manager, or even if you're not, model civility by example
�Get the recommended eight hours of sleep each night
�Listen to your co-workers
�Include everyone -- if a cake is bought for one employee's birthday, buy a cake for all employees'

Source: Beverly Sypher, professor of communication at Purdue University

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