Health, Safety and Incivility (part 2)


This interview with Sharone Bar-David appeared in Safe Supervisor magazine in September 2009.

Incivility: The Molehill that Can Cause a Mountain of Work-Related Problems: Part II

This is the second story in a two-part series examining the importance of maintaining respect in the workplace and the wide-ranging negative consequences of letting disrespectful behavior go unchallenged. Part one in August’s Safe Supervisor showed how easily small negative interactions among employees can spiral into a toxic workplace atmosphere. This month we will look at how supervisors can address the problem before it escalates.

Sally isn’t having a good day and she’s just arrived at work. “Don’t come near me today,” she warns everyone within earshot. “I’m too stressed.”

Many supervisors who heard Sally’s comment would brush it off, either because they thought she was just letting off steam or because they felt uncomfortable dealing with the situation.

But letting employees off the hook for such comments can lead to a toxic work atmosphere, says Sharone Bar-David, ( a Toronto motivational speaker and trainer who specializes in promoting respect in the workplace.

Whether intentional or not, Sally’s behavior is not appropriate. Bar-David says a supervisor hearing such a comment needs to speak to Sally about her stress and clarify the expectation that people behave in a professional manner regardless of their personal moods.

Praise Publicly, Correct Privately Approach Isn’t Always Right

Bar-David, who has a social work and law background, says talking privately to a worker who has shown incivility isn’t always the best approach. For example, if a worker tells an off-color joke in front of others who might be offended, a supervisor needs to address that incivility on the spot in public, so other workers will get the message that the behavior won’t be tolerated.

“Don’t say, ‘I was offended by that joke.’ Instead, say, ‘Jokes that focus on people’s physical attributes are not appropriate in our environment.’ The purpose of correcting offensive behavior in public is to create common standards and to enforce organizational values,” she says.

If you catch the same worker making inappropriate comments or telling off- color jokes in future, that person needs to be warned that the behavior will be documented and disciplinary action will follow should it happen again.

Watch Your Own Behavior

Supervisors can’t have one standard for themselves and another for workers. If you fly off the handle and belittle a worker in front of other workers, you are a poor role model for civil behavior.

“If you aren’t going to straighten out your own act, then don’t bother trying to correct others,” says Bar-David.

What if You are the Victim of Uncivil Behavior?

People of all levels within a company or organization are coping with stressful job demands, often with reduced staffing levels. As a supervisor you may have to deal with inappropriate comments, including yelling and condescending remarks, from a boss.

“Very often, bosses aren’t aware of the effects their own incivility. In those situations you need to figure out a constructive way to talk to them about it,” she says.

The smartest approach is to make your feelings known in a way that will not get your boss’s back up. If you use a statement such as, “You really embarrassed me when you lit in to me about that missed shipment in front of my workers yesterday” you can expect a defensive response. It’s far better to say, “I feel terrible about that problem with the shipment. Can we talk about it, Jim?”

“In the course of the conversation,” Bar-David says, “proceed to describe in non-accusatory terms how his behavior impacted you.”


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