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Why Civility Matters in the First Place

Negatives Positives Computer Keys Showing Plus And Minus Alternatives Analysis And Decisions
Over the years, you’ve been reading lots about workplace incivility in this blog. So, for a change, let’s pause to reflect on why civility matters in the first place.

Consider the game of curling, where a stone has to make its way safely into a target area over a sheet of smooth ice. Two team members sweep the ice to allow the stone to move smoothly to its destination.

Civility is the smooth ice that enables people to perform at their best, leading to best results for the team, the organization, and those who it serves. (If you’re a manager, think of yourself as the sweeper whose job it is to ensure the path is clear.)

Here are some of the ways—a partial list—that civility supports organizational and team success:

  1. Performance. People who are treated with respect are able to focus. Their mind is not bogged down by worry, their brain is not flooded with memory-impeding stress hormones, and their time is not spent on second-guessing whether or not the uncivil person intended to belittle or dismiss them. With focus, they perform at their best.
  2. Trust and teamwork. Respectful relationships yield trust, and trust in return makes people support each other, collaborate, hold themselves and one another accountable, be flexible, lend a helping hand, deal effectively with interpersonal problems, and work together toward shared goals.
  3. Customer service. The focus, trust and teamwork that civility brings about result in effective, smooth and cheerful service.
  4. Engagement and retention. Employees who feel that the organization treats them with respect and that its managers are actively ensuring that everyone is dealt with in a civil manner are highly invested in the success of the enterprise. They are less likely to depart prematurely.
  5. Innovation. Innovation relies on people’s sense of safety and trust. A civil work environment creates a milieu where new (and possibly unconventional) ideas can be shared and explored without fear.
  6. Health and safety. A civil work environment is a psychologically safe one. In a world of ever-growing rates of mental health illness on the job, a civil environment prevents the triggering or exacerbation of mental health problems (and the associated high levels of absenteeism and benefits costs). Furthermore, focused and calm employees are much less likely to engage in hazardous behaviour or be involved in workplace accidents.

The advantages of upholding a civil work environment are almost common sense. And yet—have you noticed?—incivility continues to exist uninterrupted in most organizations.


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I like to keep my promises. I promised last time to keep you posted on news regarding our new civility accelerating tools. . . you can now take a sneak preview by clicking HERE. They are available at a time-limited launch price. Contact us anytime to talk about how these products can help transform your environment. 

Roll Out the Roles


Sometimes the root cause of a chronic incivility problem is not necessarily what one would expect.

Lack of role clarity is a surprisingly common (and usually overlooked) trigger of workplace incivility. When you are unclear where your role begins and ends in relation to that of your colleague, resentments and negative perceptions emerge. All too often at Bar-David Consulting we have been called in to assist with conflict resolution or workplace incivility issues, only to discover that the problems are rooted in confusion about roles.

Here’s how it works: Francesca needs to include information about, say, customer complaints in her monthly report to her supervisor. She believes that Nick is responsible for bringing this information to her attention (that’s how it used to work for years with Al, Nick’s predecessor). Nick, on the other hand, legitimately believes that it is Francesca’s job to send him a reminder close to the end of the month.

When Nick fails to supply her with the information and the month is about to end, Francesca gets upset. She discusses this with a couple of colleagues. (She refers to it as “venting” but if you were there listening as a fly on the wall, you would know that it sounds much more like “gossip” which in itself is uncivil.) She then approaches Nick with a request to provide the information. Her tone is — you guessed it! — irritated and impatient.

The perceived uncivil manner in which Francesca approaches him upsets Nick. He feels belittled and goes right into Velcro-land. He provides Francesca with the information and adds a snarky comment, just to even out those imaginary justice ledgers. They both leave the interaction mad and wanting to get even. Francesca rushes to seek further collegial support through a bit of healthy venting.

The next time around, both Francesca and Nick enter the interaction in a state of agitation and ready for war. More incivility ensues, and now more people are brought into the fold through gossip and observation of the dynamics at play. Before long, Francesca and Nick are no longer on speaking terms. When they need to communicate with each other, they do so by using sticky notes.

By the way, if you’re wondering where the manager is in all this—that indeed is the 64-million dollar question! Had the manager been more observant and proactive, things would not have come to this.

So, what’s the solution?

Whether you are a manager dealing with problems on the team or if you are the person suffering from tension and frustration with a colleague, begin by ensuring that roles are clearly defined. Consider asking questions such as:

“Help me understand: when this type of process happens, what is your understanding of who is responsible for what? What exactly are you responsible for? What do you think your colleague’s part is? Are there overlaps? Do you have a really clear understanding of what everyone’s deliverables are on this?”

As childish as it may sound, territory is important to us adults. Territorial wars often stem from minor misunderstandings that add up to a big deal — a molehill becomes an overwhelming mountain.

My suggestion is: don’t let it happen to you, or around you. Clarify roles, then figure it out from there.


Exciting news! We’re launching amazing new civility boosting products, available now at a time-limited launch price. Contact me anytime to talk about how these products can help transform your team and organization. And, a bonus—as a loyal blog subscriber, you will benefit from further discount.  (Stay tuned for more info in the weeks ahead.) 


Three Things to Do in 2015

Happy New Year!

To make it a great year for you and those around you, do any or all of the following:

  1. Make their day. Do one thing every day (why not?) to make someone feel better, brighter, lighter. People lead complex lives filled with worry, fear, and the stress of the everyday grind. You can make a difference by doing simple things like offering to take on a task for a colleague, telling coworkers how much you enjoy working with them, writing a compliment to their supervisor, or thanking them publicly for a contribution they might take for granted. Bring a coffee or pay for theirs. Making someone’s day will have an especially positive impact if you do something that has the elements of surprise and delight.
  2. iStock new Year 2015 000041744644LargeQuestion your thoughts. When you find your mind roaming into judgmental or negative thinking (“he should be more helpful,” “the company doesn’t care about us”), meditate on this question: is it true? Can you absolutely know that it’s true? Train yourself to arrive at a simple “yes” or “no.” Landing on a yes or no will be exceedingly challenging because your mind will be frenetically offering justifications — “buts” and “depends” and other tricks that prevent you from seeing things differently. Your mind will want to keep you locked in the self-righteous or victim position. Meditate on the question. Ponder it with candour.

    Having just returned from yet another transformative event with Byron Katie in California, I unequivocally recommend using these deceptively simple questions to set you free this year.
  3. Be a shining light of respect and civility. When you are grumpy, those who interact with you suffer. Or they become reactive. Or their mental health issues are exacerbated. Civility and respect have been identified as key components to mental health in the workplace in the new National Standard of Canada on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. So why not be the one who contributes to improving the mental health of others (and yourself) rather than damaging it?


If your team or organization needs help  or you want to otherwise stay in touch, contact us anytime.

Feeling Rejected? Take Tylenol

iStock rejected image 000016794834LargeCan pain medication help when you’re feeling rejected, left out, or ostracized?

I know, I know — at first blush, this idea sounds far-fetched, even ridiculous. But bear with me for a moment and consider this: rejection hurts. It really does. Research by Professor Kip Williams and others continuously demonstrates that social rejection activates the same brain regions that are involved in physical pain (check out this previous blog post — Eye Rolling: A Health Hazard?). Even marginal ostracizing experiences with strangers trigger this reaction, if only briefly. This response is detected in functional MRI scans, in the same way that physical pain shows up in these images.

So if rejection fires up the brain’s pain centres, then the question arises: Can you diminish feelings of rejection by taking a painkiller?

In yet another fun addition to the body of research in the field of social ostracism, a group of researchers set out to find the answer to this exact question.

Here’s what they did: They gave a group of folks over-the-counter Tylenol daily for three weeks, while another group received a placebo. They then explored the extent to which each group experienced social pain on a daily basis.

And here’s the fun part: those who received the Tylenol reported less social pain than the placebo group. Furthermore, the researchers followed previous studies that used fMRI machines to trace brain activity when people play Cyberball, an online game that Dr. Williams developed. In this game, a study subject takes part in an online toss-ball activity with two imaginary players who, after several throws, stop tossing the ball to the study’s subject, thereby creating a rejection experience.

What they found (surprise!) was that for those who received the painkillers, activity in the parts of the brain that respond to pain was reduced, even when subjected to rejection during Cyberball.

So what does all this mean? I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions, but here are a few questions to ponder:

  • When you experience the pain of being rejected, excluded, or belittled, what can you do to get out of your Velcro state and move on constructively? What is your personal Tylenol-type remedy and how can you use it more effectively?
  • How and when do you create rejection experiences for others, even in very small ways? How can you minimize doing this?

And last but not least, make sure to have a Tylenol handy, just in case!


Contact us anytime — I always love hearing from you!

Oh Canada, What Happened to Your Smoke Detectors

Canadian Pariament (Free)Living in Canada, our daily news diet of late consisted of mindboggling sexual harassment and assault allegations against a public broadcaster’s radio star, topped only by allegations of sexual harassment by and against members of parliament and a discovery that our esteemed legislature is a place where anything goes.

Amongst the many common themes in these two situations, here are two shared Achilles heal issues:

1.  There were no carbon monoxide detectors or the detectors that were installed were malfunctioning. We all know that you need to have a carbon monoxide detector to alert you of dangers that you might not be able to see, hear or smell. In the same way, organizations require tools to help prevent and surface harassment issues. These come in the form of strong organizational values, solid harassment policies, and a respectful culture that deters harassing behaviours.

Unfortunately, the carbon monoxide detectors in these two cases fell short. Canadians to their horror discovered that the nation’s leading institution (the very one that crafts all those great laws about human rights, diversity and equality) does not even have a harassment policy, let alone known procedures for complaints or ensuring due process. In other words, no carbon monoxide detector was installed in the first place. In the case of CBC’s anchor Jian Ghomeshi, information revealed thus far suggests that despite reports that he reigned with an abrasive style (now described by the CBC’s executive vice President as “difficult to deal with, demanding, volatile, moody, people felt under a lot of pressure“), only minimal action was taken to fix things. Complaints were reportedly suppressed at lower levels and the organizational values were not sufficiently known nor lived. In other words, carbon monoxide detectors were in place, but they malfunctioned.

2. When the carbon detectors sounded the alarm, no one took action (or they took the wrong action.) The whole point of having a carbon monoxide detector is to enable you to take decisive action once the alarm sounds. In both cases here, the alarm sounded but people did nothing, or they froze, or they took action that did not reflect the gravity of the situation.

On Parliament Hill, as we now know, if you were an attractive newcomer (male or female, heterosexual or gay, assistant or Parliamentarian) with little power on the totem pole, you could expect to be harassed or even assaulted. According to Sheila Copps, former deputy prime minister who just came out with her own personal revelation of assault, alleged offenders were long-standing MP’s, officers of Parliament and even the Speaker. Even in the absence of official detection mechanisms in the form of proper policies, all those bystanders and decision makers did possess internal alarm detectors (what I refer to as inner canaries) that alerted them when the lines between decency and indecency have been crossed. Yet they did nothing or little to change the culture or to attend decisively to individual cases. And back at the CBC, the program’s executive producer allegedly heard complaints of all sorts. However observations and complaints about the program’s culture and the host’s behaviours were allegedly mishandled, or dealt with half-heartedetdly or in a futile fashion. In both cases, the carbon monoxide detector was squealing but people were allowed to remain in the danger zone.

So what leads to such blindness, deafness, freezing and misguided action? It’s all about the underlying beliefs that decision makers and others on the ground hold, beliefs that skew how they view reality. Here’s a sampling of blinding beliefs that may have led things to where they are today:

  1. This person is an important player – an indispensable star of some sort. We can’t touch him or her.
  2. This has always been the culture here. It will never change.
  3. This is so outrageous, I just can’t believe it could be actually true.
  4. It’s complicated. There’s always two sides to the story.
  5. The workplace isn’t for sissies. People need to learn to fend for themselves.
  6. If we take action, it could backfire.

In the early days of this blog, back in 2007, I warned about seven harassment-related mistakes leaders make. It now appears that every one of those mistakes has been committed by Parliament and at the CBC. I invite you to check these out and possibly ponder how they are relevant to you – personally or organizationally:

As an organization, what do you need to do to have reliable carbon monoxide detectors in place and have the ability to act when and if they sound the alarm?

  1. Develop meaningful organizational values – make sure “respect” is one of them – and build them into your organizational DNA.
  2. Ensure your managers are versed in the organizational values and know how to implement these in all that they do or oversee. Put in place strong respectful workplace policies.
  3. Train people on the policies and the ideas behind them (it’s not enough to have people sign off that they’ve read them, and none of that cover-your-backside training where people are bored out of their mind and leave the session totally unaffected.)
  4. Require managers to model the desired behaviours.
  5. Adopt a philosophy of taking action even on seemingly small problems – fixing broken windows swiftly minimizes the chances of bad behaviours in your neighborhood.
  6. Take complaints seriously, act immediately.
  7. Evaluate people’s conduct, decisions and performance in relation to all the above.

I predict a vast change in our landscape –  nothing will be the same in Canada post-Ghomsehi and Parliament Hill. Organizations will be required to demonstrate due diligence and accountability like never before. Let’s make sure we turn this moment into a change we all can be proud of for generations to come.

The time to act is now and at Bar-David Consulting we are committed to helping you. If you wish to prevent or deal with harassment and incivility in your organization, please do not hesitate to contact us anytime, or check out how our services can be helpful.

If Stress is Like a Rotten Guest

Senior gentleman holding a rotten fishIn response to my last post (Five Types of Stress), Slavko from Ottawa wrote: “For many people, stress is an uninvited ‘guest’, and it frequently stays longer than people expect”.

My father, born and raised in Amsterdam, always used to say: “A guest, like a fish, starts to stink after the third day“. True to his ancestral teachings, he refrained from staying anywhere as a guest for more than three days. (Alas, his views were not of much help to him as he co-hosted the never-ending assortment of overseas guests who would stay in our Tel Aviv home for months on end at my mother’s generous invitation. Herself born and raised in rural Saskatchewan, she thought nothing of it).

Turns out that several other cultures have similar proverbs, which suggests that there’s some deep wisdom in this notion that too much of a seemingly good thing can become problematic. Indeed, stress is like that guest: a little bit of it is energizing and vital and fun, but too much of it can feel rotten and, well, stinky.

So what can we learn from the world of hosting that we can apply to stress resilience? I decided to take a fun stab at it, and here are five little sights I got when comparing hosting principles with stress resilience practices:

When hosting, only invite guests you really want to host in the first place. In the resilience arena, be very thoughtful about the kind of stressors you allow into your life.

In hosting, when someone asks if you can host their cousin for three weeks, it’s okay to say no (graciously). To be resilient, learn to say ‘no’ – graciously, respectively, and decisively.

When you host, maintain your healthy routines even when the endeavour places heavy demands on your time, attention, and effort. When it comes to being resilient, no matter how intense the demands on you, never sacrifice nurturing the things that keep you sane – your sleep, healthy eating, exercise, yoga, prayer, playing, reading, or taking a mini vacation.  It is up to you to bring equanimity into your life.

Even when you’re hosting a houseful of guests, keep your home tidy and clean or else chaos will take over. In the same way, to mauntain your resilient equanimity, remove clutter from your life and physical space. An organized environment helps calm the mind.

As a host, sometimes you need to have a frank conversation with your guests about how things are working (or not). You might even need to part ways with your guest (again, graciously). A true commitment to your resilience might require you to have frank conversations – with your boss, spouse, neighbor, or mechanic. In some relationships, you might actually need to hit the Eject button.

Finally, remember: your home is your castle and the same is true for your body and soul. Resilience requires you to take responsibility for ensuring that your mind and body remain sufficiently agile to handle all the pressures and demands that are inevitably placed on you.

Do you have any insights to add? If you do, please do share!


If your team or organization needs help or just to stay in touch, contact us anytime.

Five Types of Stress

Have you ever been stressed to the point that you behaved like a lunatic? Did stress ever lead you to do and say things that you deeply regretted later? Were you thoroughly uncivil when you felt that the pressure has gotten under your skin?

If you are human, you likely answered yes to all three questions. Yup, some days you might be just plain miserable.

To get a handle on your stress (and your behaviour), start by identifying the specific kinds of stress you’re up against. From there it will be easier to apply practical strategies and take informed action. Consider these five types of stress:

  1. Anticipatory Stress happens when you worry and obsess about things that have not yet happened (and likely never will). Your mind doesn’t know the difference between this self-manufactured imaginary stressor and real threats, so is dutifully activates all the internal alarm mechanisms in full force. Classical examples are an upcoming medical test (“I’m sure they’ll find cancer”) or stressors about a child’s future (“with this tattoo, she’ll never get anywhere in life”).
  2. Situational Stress is exactly that: it’s the stress you experience when you’re in the midst of a situation. It can be a fleeting instance such as an almost-car-crash, or a somewhat more prolonged one, such as when a colleague is off work for a while and you’re filling in for him or her (on top of your own job). Situational Stress is a lot like a sprint run – it’s intense but you know there’s a finishing line.
  3. Chronic Stress is when the stress is ongoing, with no end in sight. Unlike Situational Stress, Chronic Stress is here to stay.  Whether it is caring for a disabled family member or dealing with a bully boss, it’s a marathon that goes on and on. Beware of chronic stress — it can tax you to the limit.
  4. Residual Stress is the stress that continues to affect you physically, emotionally, and cognitively even after the stressor itself has dissipated. You may have completed that big exam or delivered that project, but the effects of the stress you experienced are still lodged in your body and brain. You feel like you should be happy and carefree, but somehow you still can’t sleep at night and those tight muscles and clenched jaw simply won’t go away.
  5. Reflector Stress (that’s what I named this kind of stress, which so many of you have told me about) happens when other people’s stress rubs on to you. You walk into work on a perfectly good Wednesday morning all happy and energetic, but by the time you pass by several of your stressed out colleagues and get to your own work station, you find that you too are inexplicably edgy and tight. Their stress has reflected onto you and now it’s yours to have.

Here’s a great saying: If you don’t deal with stress, it will deal with you.

So my suggestion is: begin by understanding the nature of the ‘opponent’. From there. It will be much easier to handle it.


If your organziation needs help, contact us anytime.

And please do join me on Twitter – follow @sharonebardavid

So What if You’re Miserable Today

Male doll in suit yoga pose 000007032369SHere’s a suggestion for those days when you’re miserable at work and wish you didn’t have to be there:

Instead of acting grumpy – act happy

It’s widely accepted that when a person feels miserable, he or she should allow themselves to act accordingly. Sometimes people even refer to it as ‘being authentic’.

Here are five reasons why you might actually become happier if you act happy rather than grouchy:

  1. Acting happy will change your body’s chemistry. The levels of stress hormones circulating in your physical self will drop. The result? Your mood will change for the better as your body flushes those toxins out.
  2. When other people experience you as crabby, they avoid you, which makes you feel even worse. When you act happy (even when you’re internally not at all) they experience you positively and gravitate towards you.  This opens a cycle of positive interactions, which will inevitably uplift your spirits.
  3. Your career will benefit. Grouchy people get passed over for interesting opportunities. Besides, no one wants such folks on their team anyway. The opposite is true for people who bring good energy to the table.
  4. You’ll spend less time apologizing for your poor behaviour or having to deal with colleagues who are upset with you because of your conduct.  That alone will significantly improve your overall state.
  5. You’re a grown-up, so act like one. When you do so, you will feel good about who you are, and that in turn is sure to elevate your happiness levels.

So what the heck – why not try it? Just do a little experiment by acting happy when you’re not and see what happens. After all, what have you got to lose?


If your organziation needs help, contact us anytime.

And please do join me on Twitter – follow @sharonebardavid


Clear Your Blind Spots (With a Little Help from your Friends)

Several weeks ago I bought one of those new cars that have a ‘blind spot’ feature. Whenever there’s another vehicle in my blind spot, a little light turns on. And if I am about to change lanes and there’s a car in my blind spot, a little beep alerts me that I might be in danger of acting without proper caution.

Unfortunately, there is no parallel light that assists us in knowing when our personal behaviour is counterproductive without us even knowing about it. Having blind spots is human, but inevitably we are bound to create significant damage to ourselves and others.

So, if you want to step up and be the kind of person you really strive to be, you’ll need to clean up some of the mess in your blind spot. If you don’t, you might find yourself in all kinds of trouble. Seeking feedback from others is one of the best methods for obtaining quality data that will help you change. It may not be exactly what you want to hear, but like any other yucky medicine, it’s gonna do you a lot of good.

Here’s a list of tips I comprised for my upcoming book Trust Your Canary! Every Leader’s Guide to Taming Workplace Incivility – use them to help you collect quality feedback:

Selecting the right people

  1. Choose a cross-sectional representation of people to provide the feedback: colleagues, managers, people who report to you.
  2. Select people who are good observers of behaviour – they will give you detailed data.
  3. Don’t go only to those who like and appreciate you. Those who are not necessarily your fans might be great sources of rich information.

Setting the stagePerson shrugging

  1. Decide whether to let the person know in advance that you will be seeking feedback or whether it is better to do it on a more spontaneous basis.
  2. Let them know why you are asking for feedback – the larger context.
  3. Clarify that you are open to hearing anything they have to say without becoming defensive.
  4. Ask for the feedback to be as specific as possible.
  5. Request their observations on your behaviour as well as on the impact it has (or might have) on others.

When receiving the feedback

  1. Monitor your reactions – do not get defensive (easier said than done, I know).
  2. Maintain a relaxed body posture.
  3. Ask clarifying questions to receive specific data (for example, “what specifically do you see or hear that leads you to say that I come across as dismissive?”).
  4. Encourage additional feedback by using phrases such as ‘what else have you seen?”, or “what do you think others might be seeing that I do not see?”.
  5. Thank them for their input and candour and invite them to let you know of anything else they may think of after the conversation.

After the fact

  1. Thank the person again in person, via email, phone or a written note, letting them know what specifically was helpful and what action you might take based on their feedback.
  2. Now, make the necessary changes!


If your organziation needs help, contact us anytime.

And please do join me on Twitter – follow @sharonebardavid

Incivility, Customers, and the Snowball Effect

Poor Ratings (Customer Service) 000003839435SmallIf you think that incivility on your team has little or nothing to do with service to customers, clients or patients, you may want to reconsider. In fact, you may be suffering from detrimental thinking errors. When team members are uncivil with each other, one of the following is bound to happen (a partial list):

  • A client will witness the staff’s incivility, and, based on their impressions, will make decisions that will adversely affect your organization
  • A staff member who is used to treating colleagues discourteously will inadvertently deal with a customer in the same manner
  • Team members who are used to being dismissive with each other will refer to clients behind their backs in derogatory ways (I’ve seen that happen, have you?)
  • The derogatory nicknames that are used to refer to clients will deteriorate into what the law considers to be ‘harassment’, whereby clients are referred to in terms that are based on their culture, religion or race and such
  • Staff is distracted by colleagues’ incivility. They make mistakes, take longer breaks, forget information, radiate gloom rather than cheerfulness, and offer no creative solutions when those are needed. In true snowball effect, customers will naturally conclude that your organization offers inferior service and products.

In a survey on workplace incivility I designed for the Canadian HR Reporter magazine a couple of years ago, 72% of the 308 HR professionals who participated in the survey ‘strongly agreed’ or ‘somewhat agreed’ that incivility has a significant negative effect on customer service. That’s 3 out of 4 people -nothing to sneeze off, to say the least.

And research By Christine Pearson and Christine Porath published in the Harvard Business Review in 2013 suggests that 25% of people who experience a troubling workplace incivility incident by a boss or colleague will admit to taking their frustration out on a customer. However, when we ask people in our workplace incivility training sessions to guess the research findings, they usually come up with much higher figures.

If you want to change things on your team and improve customer service, start with a good discussion about it within the team.  Click here for a process that will help you do so, step by step. And, of course, building awareness and commitment though solid training is always a great ideas too.

(PS sometimes it’s the customers who are rude first. In these cases, creative ideas for dealing with the problem might come in handy).


If you have great examples of incivility affecting customer service, or need help with challenges you have, contact us anytime.

And, if you missed the news, I’ve joined twitter and would love you to join me –


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