Newsletter #516 – The High Cost of Rudeness and Incivility

Have you ever had an employer, supervisor or professor who was rude, disrespectful, bossy, controlling or Not civilotherwise unpleasant to be around? Have you worked or lived with an uncivil family member or colleague? For almost everybody the answer is yes. I once joined a fitness club where the manager was controlling, impolite, and inclined to bark-out directions to the staff and sometimes to the club members. Before this person was fired, the organization became increasingly characterized by sliding employee morale, higher staff turnover and loss of the club’s members and customers. Perhaps this abrupt and insulting manner came from the manager’s insecurities but his sour attitudes were poisoning the whole atmosphere and slowly destroying the business.

 That is a major world-wide problem according to research described in a Harvard Business Review article (January-February, 2013) titled “The Price of Incivility: Lack of Respect Hurts Morale—And the Bottom Line.” A poll of 800 American managers and employees in 17 industries found that when employees feel disrespected and bullied at work:

  • 78% reported that their commitment to the organization declined.
  • 48% decreased their work effort.
  • 38% intentionally decreased the quality of their work.
  • 25% admitted taking out their frustrations on customers.

The magazine authors’ survey of 14,000 people in American and Canadian companies concluded that “incivility is expensive and that few leaders or organizations recognize or take actions to curtail it.”  Lack of civility can pull down the quality of any organization. This applies beyond business to academic institutions, churches, relief and parachurch organizations or even to medical treatment facilities. One hospital requires “temperamental doctors to attend ‘charm school’ to decrease their brashness (and reduce the potential for lawsuits).”

How is incivility counteracted? Most of this is basic:

  • Recognize and do something about rudeness and verbal bullying in your organization. Don’t ignore uncivil people and their actions.
  • As a leader, model sensitivity, respect and kindness. Be open to feedback.
  • Teach employees and new hires what it means to be civil. Make this an organizational priority.
  • Help counseling and coaching clients recognize and reduce incivility in their own relationships.

Do you think this is important or “much ado about nothing?” What are your experiences with rudeness and incivility? Please comment.


  1. Twice in the past week I have been tempted to be rude to people and wasn’t, thankfully, only to later have those people appear as very important customers in the context of my job. No person is an object and, truly, it’s a small world out there.


    1. Thanks Alyosha. At the time while you were typing and sending your response I was in a restaurant having breakfast with a friend who described a young guy who has no management skill and probably has been promoted too fast. He is in the process of alienating his staff, taking credit for what goes well, blaming others and hiding from what does not go well and criticizing any creative ideas that do not originate with him or that do not allow him to use what he hears for his own advantage. He is highly political, manipulative, interested primarily in his own image and ruled by his own insecurities. His story and yours are contrasts. They both show the potential destructive power of incivility. Thanks for responding.


      1. You may remember Lawrence J. Peter’s paraphrase of his own Principle: The cream rises until it sours… Here I think we have an example. But I’m also reminded of something from the Bible:

        (1 Timothy 3:1 RSV) The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task.
        (1 Timothy 3:2 RSV) Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher,
        (1 Timothy 3:3 RSV) no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money.
        (1 Timothy 3:4 RSV) He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way;
        (1 Timothy 3:5 RSV) for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church?
        (1 Timothy 3:6 RSV) He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil;
        (1 Timothy 3:7 RSV) moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders, or he may fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

        In my church we avoid the Peter Principle, and results such as A. and others describe in these comments, by ordaining or otherwise promoting people who have shown by their actions and attitudes that they are already qualified for the position – that they are in fact doing the job of that position already. Something to consider, because the principle works! And at the heart of it is the ability to be civil and respectful, indeed to go far beyond that.

        Perhaps others would say differently, but I’d call myself very much a student of that degree and kind of regard for people. But then, I’ve had to overcome a lot more in myself that I simply didn’t know about that not all the good intentions in the world could overcome (including bipolar disorder, being “mistyped” with regard to personality, bad influences and lack of training as a child, and just plain “do-what-you-want-itus”). I’ve learned more about properly relating to people in the last 5 years than I’ve learned in the previous 30; and I’m putting the pressure on myself appropriately to quicken that pace, because the results are showing up in my life and in the lives of those I deal with.

      2. John, I very much enjoyed reading your post and appreciate your honesty. I think every one of us has more difficulty leading ourselves than leading others. But good leaders are aware of their personal challenges and rise above the difficulties as you are doing.

        It was good to re-read those Bible verses and be reminded of what we sometimes forget. I loved reading about your church, especially the part about selecting leaders who already were working in the areas where they were soon to lead. I wonder how many bad leaders get into positions where they have shown no prior interest or competence in leadership.

        I am not catholic but the more I read about the pope the more I admire his courage in stepping down, even though this was stimulated, I gather, by the many scandals and cases of clergy misconduct that he was having to face. It is not easy to step back and walk away, even when the reasons for doing so seem noble. My images of the previous pope are less about his charisma and popularity and more about the way he deteriorated health-wise at the end but tried to keep going.

        Thanks for your thoughtful reflections.

  2. I think that lack of civility is a huge deal! A number of years ago, I worked in a very large company with a long history of a “militaristic” management style. I had the opportunity as an internal consultant to watch the transformation of one manager, who because of his caustic, uncivil behavior fomented hatred and malicious behavior among his employees. When this manager changed and began treating his employees with civility and kindness, there was nothing his employees wouldn’t do for him!


  3. And some people say nice guys finish last… if they only knew that it’s exactly the opposite… Thanks for posting this, Dr. Collins, this is being reblogged on REALMWALKER (which is devoted to explorations of personality type). Know that at least one person (surely not the only one) has put a link to this on Facebook; in fact that’s how I found this article!


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