Prevent the incivility of the election from infiltrating the workplace

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The political fracture currently felt in our country is also evident in the workplace. In a poll of over 250 people that I conducted this week, the vast majority report that they are still reeling from a divisive election.

What’s worse, the lack of civility demonstrated by our political leaders has infiltrated the workplace. Over 60 percent of participants said political leaders’ incivility has made them feel disrespected, and well over half claim it has distracted them from their work. 

{mosads}I’ve studied the effects of incivility for over two decades. Simply being around incivility exacts a tremendous toll. My experiments show that being around rudeness robs you of your cognitive resources, hijacks your performance and creativity, and sidelines you from your work. Even if you want to perform at your best, you cannot, because you are bothered and preoccupied by the rudeness you are experiencing. 


In experiments I have done, I have found that once people are exposed to rudeness, they are three times less likely to help others, and their willingness to share drops by more than half. The effects of a divisive presidential campaign are rippling throughout teams and organizations.

Nearly half report that, since the campaign, they have felt uncomfortable dealing with coworkers, clients, or customers that seem affiliated with the other party. Over a quarter admit that they have decreased collaborative efforts at work. Even the subtle and implicit costs of such fractures are great.  

My research shows that when people lack a sense of psychological safety — meaning they do not feel a sense of trust or respect — they shut down, often without realizing it. They are less likely to seek or accept feedback and also less likely to experiment, discuss errors, or speak up about potential problems. Since the election, the fallout has had an extraordinary impact on collaboration and performance in the workplace.

Over the past few weeks, I have been asked by many company founders and top leaders how they should support people and unite their workforce. Should they pull their troops together and address the climate, incivility, and divisions in the workplace?

Leaders should reassure employees that, despite political incivility and the rise of incivility in society, their workplace culture embraces civility and diversity. The issue of inclusiveness is weighing heavily on people. Over half of those I polled are thinking about inclusiveness; 40 percent are thinking about this issue at work. Managers need to assure their employees that everyone will be valued and respected.

Diversity’s true value depends on teammates’ culture and attitudes. If incivility reigns and people feel as though they aren’t valued, or they lack permission to speak up and share opinions, they won’t contribute. Diversity, in turn, will mean little. People need to feel respected in order to contribute; that is where civility comes in.

We must treat everyone well, including individuals who think differently than we do. Data show that true inclusion is quite difficult for most people. We show unconscious biases, often through subtle attitudes or actions.

Research shows that one powerful way to reduce our unconscious biases is to identify and focus on what we have in common. Leaders should highlight a common mission or purpose. They should demonstrate that co-workers are all members of the same community, fans of the same sports team, parents, daughters or sons, etc.

Leaders set the tone. In my study of over 20,000 employees, those who felt respected by their leader reported 92 percent greater focus and prioritization and 55 percent more engagement. By creating a civil climate, a business leader can enable greater collaboration marked by people who reciprocate respectful behavior.

Recent research by Google’s Kathryn Dekas, along with her colleagues, shows how the office climate affects organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs). If you want people to collaborate better and give more at work, address the norms for how leaders and employees treat one another respectfully.  

Recently, at a speaking event I attended in Los Angeles for a digital media firm, the founder of the company did something very unique. He decided that, given the political climate, now was a great time to address what his firm stood for as an organization.

He led a conversation about how his firm needed to be a mecca of civility and inclusiveness, while acknowledging that some employees held strong political views. The founder reminded employees that they need to be role models. He said his company did not want any member of its larger, virtual community to feel disrespected, disregarded, or excluded because of their political beliefs. 

Organizations can set the tone for the nation. The culture at work will have a potent impact on society. Civility is contagious. The time is ripe for leaders to support and unite their workforce by promoting a more civil and inclusive environment. Don’t punt this opportunity away. Make the most of it.

It’s a great time to highlight who you want to be as a team or organization. In doing so, you will enable your colleagues to realize their full potential, as you realize your own.


Christine Porath is the author of, “Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace,” and a professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill. 

Tags Behavior civility Democrat Etiquette Human behavior presidential election Republican Workplace bullying Workplace incivility
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