According to a report in the Harvard Business Review, incivility is on the rise. Christine Porath, a professor of management at Georgetown University who has long studied how people behave, defines incivility as rudeness, disrespect, ignoring and undermining people, or mocking and teasing them. Front line workers, Porath says, take the brunt of this abuse.
She surveyed 2,000 people in more than 25 industries and found that 76 percent experience incivility at least once a month while 78 percent said that bad behavior from customers toward employees is more common than it was five years ago. (You can read the whole report here.)
While many of us witness examples of incivility in our everyday lives, sometimes these interactions involve celebrities and make headlines. Recently, James Corden was banned from the popular New York City hot spot Balthazar after the late night host was abusive to a server and “extremely nasty” to the manager, according to the restaurant’s owner, Keith McNally. After Corden apologized on his show, the ban was briefly lifted, but he then denied the entire incident during an interview with the London Times. On Instagram, McNally said that after that interview and “a second look at his fraudulent confession, I’ve given up on James Corden. For good.” Others, including many of Corden’s viewers, might feel the same way.
Now is an important moment to talk about civility. On Thursday, we will gather with relatives and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. Can we keep political discussions off the table and try to repair riffs that may have affected our relationships? On Friday, hordes of shoppers will be out, hoping to take advantage of specials on electronics and nab those popular toys we promised young children. Will we be patient, waiting in line for the next checkout person? When we can’t find someone to help us find that special item we desperately want to buy, do we promise not to berate the manager?
Once Thanksgiving is in our rearview mirrors, can we continue to practice kindness during the hectic holiday season? Many of us will be traveling by plane. Fight attendants continue to take most of the anger dished out by passengers who are stressed out by large crowds, overcrowded planes, and flight delays. Some of these confrontations turn violent, with more than one airline employee being taken to the hospital. Can we turn down the temperature? It’s never pleasant to have a flight cancelled, forcing a wait, sometimes overnight, in an airline terminal. But, in most cases, front line workers are not responsible for bad weather, equipment failures, and staff shortages. They are frustrated, too, so targeting them for anger and abuse will not solve the situation. And, in some cases, may result in further delays while a passenger is being restrained and possibly arrested.
More people dine out during the holidays. This year restaurants will try to accommodate large numbers of guests with fewer employees in the kitchen and on the floor. Waiting longer than expected for an entrée will require tolerance. If a dish arrives and is not to your liking, don’t throw a James Corden fit. You may not end up being mocked online like Corden, but you might risk, like the comedian, being banned from the restaurant. At the very least, those around you will notice.
And not all these encounters happen in person. How many have called a “help” line and not received any help? Maybe the product we called about no longer is covered by warranty. Or the issue cannot be solved over the phone and a service person will have to be dispatched – at a cost. It’s easy to retaliate and lash out. Try to hold back.
Then there’s the internet – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok. Someone pushes one of our buttons and it’s easy to react and post a nasty response. Resist. Logout and walk away rather than escalate a conflict that won’t change anyone’s mind and may have repercussions. That goes for posting a bad one-star review for a small business. If you have a problem with the service, better to call the place and tell the owner or manager what happened. You’d be surprised how many business people prefer this feedback to being criticized online.
No one is perfect. I trust there is not one person among us who hasn’t lost it when we have experienced a bump in the road. But before exploding, take a deep breath. Taking your anger out on someone who may actually be trying to help but is helpless, will not solve your problem. And I imagine – because I’ve been there – after unloading on that front line worker, you will go home and regret your behavior. You can vow to do better. You might even want to apologize the next time you visit that store or restaurant. But if you do apologize, make sure that apology is sincere. Don’t pull a James Corden.
We won’t be able to bring civility back to our society overnight. To employ an overused – but still effective metaphor – we are all like that frog in the boiling water. We didn’t realize how bad things had become until the incivility surrounding us was hard to ignore. We can turn things around, but it will take everyone to work harder to behave better. We can begin that turnaround on Thanksgiving.
Top photo: Bigstock