The rise of incivility in the workplace

man sticking out his tongue at a phoneEarlier this month, I participated in Respect in the Workplace training at my work. It was excellent.

While there was a pronounced focus on harassment, timely given the Me Too movement and stories of sexual abuse and harassment out of Hollywood, there was also an important emphasis on respect and incivility.

Incivility in the workplace is on the rise. Both McKinsey and Harvard Business Review have published excellent articles on this trend and the hidden costs.

According to one study in 1998, 50% of workers reported they were treated rudely at least once a month. In 2011, the figure rose to 55% and 62% in 2016. That’s twelve times a year most of us experience some form of incivility at work.

What happens when we experience incivility in the workplace? We feel devalued, hurt, emotionally upset. It becomes hard to concentrate and focus on tasks at hand. It is emotionally draining. If it festers or the conflict worsens, the fight, flight or freeze response begins to override our ability to function. We disengage or we leave altogether.

Incivility results in lower productivity, higher employee turnover, and lower employee engagement.

What wasn’t addressed in the training was the root cause of this disturbing trend. Some may attribute it to Trump or social media. I believe the root cause is directly related to the amount of pressure and stress on employees to deliver results at all costs—often at the cost of incivility.

And here’s the scary part–none of us are immune.

A few weeks ago, I found myself speaking a bit icily on the phone to a colleague who had not communicated with me that they would miss a requested deadline. There was no phone call or email to let me know they could not complete the work, despite several attempts on my part to follow up with them.

Who in this case was disrespectful—me for adopting a clipped, direct tone (but hopefully still professional) to the conversation, or my colleague for not communicating with me in the first place? You tell me.

There is one thing I do know. People will always take their cue from the people at the top. Leaders must live, breathe and model respect and civility in the workplace if it is to be sanctified in the culture of the organization.

There is a nasty trickle down effect that occurs when a leader speaks or sends an email with highly caustic or sarcastic language to employees. It sends a message—it’s OK to act this way, when it’s not OK.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take a stand against incivility in the workplace. We all need to be leaders to make our workplaces happier, positive places to be.

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Lessons learned from the great Stuart McLean

Stuart McLeanThis week, Canada lost a national treasure. Stuart McLean, best known for his radio program The Vinyl Café and early days on CBC radio, passed away at the age of 68.

Stuart was one of the best teachers and mentors I ever had. I first met Stuart in 1984 where he was one of the young, hipper instructors in the Ryerson school of journalism. (I’m smiling as I write this because Stuart never in a million years would have considered himself hip.) We were instantly smitten by him.

Stuart wasn’t just a teacher. He was a friend. He was one of us. He’d invite us to his home for coffee on the weekends to hear our story ideas, and review transcripts or tape, or go out for a beer after a full day in the studio.

As a teacher, he was patient, encouraging and insightful. He’d let us explore and discuss ideas, perched on a desk at the back of the room, always watching and observing and jumping in when needed to steer us in the right direction. He knew the greatest learning was by doing and exploring, and gave us full reign to make mistakes, learn and grow.

While many people may remember Stuart as a great storyteller, I will always remember him as a great listener. Stuart had this uncanny ability to make you feel like you were the only person in the room. He gave people his undivided attention and hung on their every word.

I remember the time Stuart turned the tables on me and interviewed me for his radio program and one of his books. The segment was on Ernie the Hot Dog Man. Ernie was a fixture on Ryerson campus, and Stuart interviewed some of his students to find out what Ernie meant to us.

It was unnerving to be on the receiving end of the microphone and Stuart’s steely gaze. He thrust the microphone under my chin and started asking questions. His eyes never wavered once from my face. He said nothing–just sat and nodded with a slight grin on his face. I realized after I had watched a master at work. Stuart had perfected the art of listening and knew how to get his subjects to open up and share their inner most thoughts and feelings simply by staying silent.

Here are just a few of the things I learned from Stuart McLean.

I learned that every person in this world matters and has a story worth telling.

I learned to be curious and to ask questions.

I learned that people appreciate when you take an interest in their lives

I learned the importance of listening with your heart

I learned the power of silence in drawing people out

Most of all, I learned what it meant to be a good human being.

As I was reading the many tributes to Stuart this week online, I came across one story about his philosophy on teaching. The first duty of a teacher he said was to build confidence, no matter how deep you may have to dig. “If there’s something good in the assignment turned in, praise that,” he said. “If the writing’s bad but the broadcast quality is good, praise that. If the broadcast quality is poor, but they’ve organized it well, praise that. And if everything is bad, but their posture is good, well, dammit, praise that.”

I’m still learning from this great man.

Stuart, I know you’re up there in the vinyl café in the sky, microphone in hand, capturing new tales. This one’s for you.

Aim for progress, not perfection

strive for progress signIn my line of work, I make it a mission to cut out jargon. There is one buzzword I’ve adopted and even grown fond of lately–the word agile.

More and more, you hear about agile teams, projects and processes. Agile methodology is when you plan out your tasks or work in phases, then measure and tweak along the way.

The reason why I like this word so much is because the agile approach embodies an inherent philosophy that has a direct impact on happiness —the importance of aiming for progress, not perfection.

Two of the leading experts in the field of perfectionism are Canadians—Paul Hewitt, a professor at the University of British Columbia and Gordon Flett at the University of Toronto. In just one of their many studies of 10,000 professors, they found a statistical co-relation that those pursuing a perfect solution had a lower number of publications, lower amount of citations and a lower impact on their profession. They also had a higher rate of depression, anxiety, eating disorders and, shockingly, a higher rate of suicide.

I’ve never been a perfectionist. I can’t imagine the burden that weighs on people of trying to be perfect or achieving the perfect result all the time.

I’ve learned there are many ways to skin a cat. When my team works on a design concept or develops communication plans at work, there isn’t any single right or wrong answer or method. There are simply different options and approaches with different merits and risks. You choose a course, try it out, see what works, then adjust your plan.

You learn most when you fail. Unfortunately one of the biggest issues in business today is organizations say they are willing to let their employees fail, but when push comes to shove, the focus on the bottom line wins out. Companies are so lean they can’t afford the time, money or resources to fail.

Still, aiming for progress, not perfection is a philosophy that can benefit just about every aspect of our lives. Trying to lose weight? Aim for progress, not perfection. Studying for a big exam? Planning a large event? You know the answer.

This week’s #HappyAct is to aim for progress, not perfection. Perfection is an elusive dream. Instead set small, baby step goals, and celebrate when you hit milestones.

Five things you can do to be more coachable

fury-girls-with-new-logo

The Fury girls show off their new logo–Clare is lying down in front

It’s Wednesday evening and I’m sitting in the stands at the arena watching another one of Clare’s hockey practices. Her Frontenac Fury team are doing passing and shooting drills on the ice. The kids soak up every direction, instruction and piece of advice of the coaches.

Children are highly coachable. They are desperate to learn, try new things, and improve. As the season goes on, it’s incredible to see the progress they make as they practice and hone their skills and gel as a team.

Why is it as adults we lose some of this willingness to accept counsel and guidance to help us improve?

The other day, I was talking with a co-worker about someone we work with. The person we were talking about is highly intelligent, skilled and knows their job inside and out. But sometimes they can come across as harsh, blunt and unfeeling towards others and it can create friction in meetings.

My co-worker asked, since I knew this person better, whether they would be open to me sharing this feedback? I thought about it, but I concluded that this person wasn’t highly coachable, and instead of helping the situation, it might make matters worse.

As a people leader, I can tell you one of the things I look for and value most in people is whether they are coachable. Whether they are willing to take constructive feedback, advice and counsel, and apply it to learn, grow and ultimately improve their performance. This to me is far more important that the skills and knowledge they bring to the table.

Journalism school and years of playing team sports helped me be open to feedback and criticism. In fact in my role now, I get nervous if someone returns my copy to me with no changes, because I think it means they never read it! But I know just as much as the next person there is much more I could be doing to be more open to constructive feedback to improve my performance. Often it’s emotion that gets in the way of positive coaching.

Here are five things you can do to be more coachable

  1. Be open to trying things a new way. Focus on the benefits of the new approach, instead of what could go wrong, then commit to doing it the new way and see what happens.
  2. Check your emotion at the door and focus on the outcome or goal you are trying to achieve.
  3. Be humble and admit when you are wrong. How can you improve if you are never wrong?”
  4. Take initiative to learn or practice a new skill on your own.
  5. Remind yourself that the person giving the feedback is only trying to help. If you know it comes from a good place, you will be far more likely to be receptive to the feedback.

Every great writer has an editor. Every great athlete has a coach. This week’s #HappyAct is to be aware of how you respond to feedback and try to be more coachable. You’ll feel more positive about how you accepted the feedback and for the positive change and growth you experienced by being open to new approaches.

How to deal with an unreasonable boss

people quit because of bad bossesThere’s a new book I’ve put on my summer reading list: Colin Powell’s My American Journey. Here’s a great quote from it:

“The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” —Colin Powell

Oren Harari, a professor at the University of San Francisco says if this was a litmus test, most CEOs would fail. I couldn’t agree more.

Powell talks about busy bastard bosses, bosses that never rest, and as a result never let their staff rest. It’s sad, but I’ve heard of more busy bastard bosses making life hell for their employees in organizations and it’s time we put a stop to it.

Powell advises against being a BBB. He writes, “Be busy, work hard, but don’t become so busy that you cut out other things in life, like family and recreation and hobbies. And never be so busy that you’re not giving your staff and your followers enough time to do the same thing.”

Here are tips for dealing with an unreasonable boss:

  • Don’t check email at night unless it’s a crisis. Just because someone sends you an email at 10:30 at night doesn’t mean you have to answer it at 10:30 at night.
  • Watch and learn how they like to work. Some bosses want everything by email. Some want updates in a meeting. Learn their preferences and as long as they’re reasonable, change your habits to accommodate them.
  • Set limits. If you need to be home with your kids in the morning, but can stay late if needed at night, make them aware of this.
  • Be concise and to the point, and ask for clarity. Unreasonable bosses often think they communicate well, but they don’t. They’re so focused on being busy, and moving on to the next thing on their list, they gloss over instructions and fail to provide clear direction.
  • Figure out how to get what you need or get things done through other people so you don’t have to deal with them.
  • If they give you an unrealistic deadline, ask for more time. If they say no, ask which other work can be put on hold so you can meet the deadline.

Most bosses aren’t bastards, but they are busy. If you set limits, learn how they like to work, and do good work, you’ll have a good chance of establishing boundaries and a good work life balance.

And for those poor souls who work for a busy bastard boss who are hopeless—bosses who are so unreasonable or disorganized they make it impossible for you to do your job, who don’t care or even know about what’s going on in the lives of their employees, and only see employees as a head count or resource, find another job.

Lavish praise not criticism

flowers bloomingThe world needs more praise and less criticism.

If you’re a parent, you know the power of praise. Praise is like the warmth of the sun that nourishes and helps the petals of a flower unfold. Criticism will cause the flower to shrivel up and die.

This week’s Happy Act is to praise someone. Your child. Your partner. A co-worker. Tell them what a great job they’ve done then watch them blossom and grow.

Write your own employment contract

employment contractIt’s scary how many people I talk to fielding work calls and emails at all hours of the day.

This has what the work world has come to these days. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. You can write your own employment contract. I wrote mine years ago after I got laid off early in my career. Here’s what I promised myself:

  • While on vacation, I will not check my email. I’ll make sure I have sufficient back-up and confidence in my team to handle anything that comes up in my absence.
  • I won’t work weekends unless there is something out of the ordinary that necessitates cutting into my precious time with my family.
  • I believe that someone else’s lack of planning does not constitute a crisis in my day and I have pledged to never be the cause of a crisis for people I work with because of my lack of planning. That would be disrespectful.
  • I deserve and will take at least 10 or 15 minutes to eat my lunch.
  • Whenever possible, I will go for a short walk at lunch to clear my head, and get a few minutes of exercise and fresh air.
  • I will leave the office at a reasonable time each night so I can have dinner with my family. My productivity takes a nose dive about an hour after my normal work day ends, so it is not in my best interests or the best interests of my company for me to stay.
  • I will work my hardest and uphold the highest standards of professional integrity.

This week’s #HappyAct is to write your own employment contract. Do you think mine is realistic today, or am I a dinosaur? Leave a comment.