Imagine working where information flowed freely, collaboration was the norm and mutual respect prevailed. In 2007, Cisco Systems’ revenue exceeded $34 billion. The company attributes its success to civility.
Cisco developed a comprehensive plan to assure respectful employee interactions after studying the cost of incivility among non- Cisco employees. A detailed analysis can be found in Pearson’s and Porath’s book, The Cost of Bad Behavior.
Among other factors, Cisco calculated lost work time worrying about an uncivil event and trying to avoid the offender; intentional reduction of work effort; weakened organizational commitment; and reduced time spent at work. Cisco considers itself an extremely civil organization, presuming only one percent of their population would encounter a workplace incivility per year. The company still found tremendous gains in their civility focus.
In 2003, Microsoft examined its culture and decided its culture needed to change in order to improve customers’ perceptions. Since that time, the company has transformed itself from concentrating on competencies to one focused on values. Microsoft’s values describe civility which includes listening to understand others’ perspectives; do not disparage others; maintain objectivity when conflict arises; and demonstrate more interest in finding the right answer than defending a position.
Pearson and Porath conducted experiments to measure actual performance, creativity and helpfulness. Participants completed verbal tasks to measure performance. The result was concentration suffered even when participants were asked to imagine an uncivil event; task focus, short-term memory and performance suffered.
In one study, participants observed a confederate being berated for being late. Participants performed 33% worse on verbal tasks and came up with 39% fewer creative ideas. Only 35% of these participants helped pick up something up that was intentionally dropped compared with 90% who had not observed the incivility. When the participants experienced rudeness first-hand their performance was 61% lower on verbal tasks; produced 50% less ideas; helpfulness dropped to 24%.
Creativity requires mental agility; to generate a number of ideas, to combine those ideas and identify a best result. It is
a normal brain function that uses both sides of the brain. Creativity can be developed, but it requires concentration and practice. Developing this skill helps people find solutions, which makes them more able to handle stress and build better relationships.
Encountering or even observing incivility results in an emotional response. Victims and witnesses focus on fight-or-flight rather than creative problem solving.
Establishing and sustaining a civil environment reduces turnover and managerial time to resolve conflict. More importantly, it creates an environment that allows people to think, to create and to collaborate.