The Many Channels of Incivility

The November issue of the American Psychology Association Monitor reported on a growing incidence of workplace incivility. It reflects on the prevalence of rude behavior in tech-mediated exchanges as well as face-to-face encounters.

The first segment focused on the effect of online ranting. The main point was that rants do not release. Instead, people who frequent rant sites to disparage others become angrier and less happy over time. The second story was an appeal to bring back the phone booth. Being in the presence of another person’s mobile phone conversation is an irritating experience for most people. In fact, overhearing one side of a conversation is much more irritating than overhearing both sides of the conversation. When forced to eavesdrop, people want to do a thorough job of it.

The result is a collision of convenience and consideration. The convenience of mobile devices is that they can be used anywhere anytime. The consideration issue is that using those devices causes disturbances in the immediate vicinity. Although people are now less likely to shout into their phones as they did a few years ago, a phone conversation requires much more than a whisper. It is distracting to others. Similarly, students in university classes are distracted by the screen images on other students’ computers especially when those images are disconnected from the topic under discussion.

The essence of consideration is taking into account the impact of behavior on other people and accommodating behavior to avoid inconvenience others.

The second section of the piece considers incivility in face-to-face encounters at work. Rude customers can put a damper on the day. The article notes the cost of incivility. When employees experience rude behavior from customers or colleagues, they call in sick more often and increase their search for alternative employment. People simply don’t want to spend time with unpleasant company.

We appreciate that the article ended with a bright note by acknowledging the potential of our work with CREW to increase workplace civility. Organizations can take action to reduce the prevalence of incivility and to alleviate its impact when it does occur.

As incivility has increased its importance as a social issue, research on the topic has proliferated. Social behavior has many complex nuances. Untangling the processes underlying incivility, work and technology will occupy a lot of people for a long time.

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