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What leaders can do to stop rampant incivility

Leaders can set the example of respect and decency to decrease the level of incivility that takes place in the office, says S. Chris Edmonds.

3 min read


Video transcript:

In every corner of society, we are faced with rudeness, disrespect, and insensitive behavior.  According to experts, it’s getting worse.

Christine Porath has been studying incivility in the workplace for over 20 years. In 2005, nearly half of the workers she surveyed said they were treated rudely at work at least once a month. By 2016, that number jumped to 60%.

Porath’s latest study reveals that:

  • 76% of respondents experience incivility at work at least once a month.
  • 78% witness incivility at work at least once a month, and 70% witness it at least two to three times a month.

This is today’s reality.

The damage of incivility is undeniable. Being treated rudely creates distrust, frustration, anger and worse.

Witnessing incivility at work causes damage, too.  Porath found observing rudeness causes anger, distress and people feeling threatened. Seeing incivility interferes with our memory and quashes performance.

Business leaders can’t stop rude treatment across their communities. What leaders can do, though, is ensure that incivility does not happen in their companies.

How? First leaders must define exactly what they mean by respectful treatment in their organization. One client defined their respect value with these four observable, measurable behaviors:

  1. I communicate directly with the people involved.
  2. I seek and genuinely listen to others’ opinions.
  3. I come prepared and actively participate in every interaction.
  4. I validate each person’s talents and contributions within the organization.

Once your respect value is defined in behavioral terms, formal leaders must model these behaviors in every interaction. By consistently demonstrating these “new rules,” employees take notice. Leaders’ quality interactions build awareness of these respect behaviors.

Second, hold everyone accountable for modeling your valued behaviors. Leaders must celebrate aligned behaviors, measure aligned behaviors — and coach and mentor misaligned behaviors — every day.

It may take a year or more to embed respectful behaviors across your organization.

Don’t leave the quality of workplace interactions to chance. Be intentional: make respect as important as results.

What have I missed? What questions do you have? Add your comments or post your questions on my YouTube channel.


S. Chris Edmonds is a speaker and author as well as executive consultant, founder and CEO with The Purposeful Culture Group. He has authored or co-authored seven books, including The Culture Engine and, his latest, Good Comes First with Mark Babbitt. Edmonds’ videos, posts and podcasts are available at DrivingResultsThroughCulture. Follow Edmonds on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Apple Podcasts.


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