09/11/2012 12:24 EDT | Updated 11/11/2012 05:12 EST

Sticky Situation: Act Your Age at the Office

Do you ever feel like standing on top of your desk to belt out Aretha Franklin's anthem, R-E-S-P-E-C-T to "that guy" or "that girl"? Sadly, you are not alone. Office manners are declining while workplace woes are rising. When I conduct civility workshops, participants are always surprised to hear about the costs of the little niggles of the contemporary workplace.


Sticky, even costly, workplace incivility:

Don't be that guy or that girl, be the one.


Do you ever feel like standing on top of your desk to belt out Aretha Franklin's anthem, R-E-S-P-E-C-T to "that guy" or "that girl"? Sadly, you are not alone.

Although you may wish you could, by respect for yourself and for your employer, you press forward on the queen of soul's album and instead play "I say a little prayer." To the rhythm of the gospel blues, you show restraint, take a deep breath, count to ten or go for a walk. In that one moment, you are making the one choice to be civil. It only takes one: one moment, one choice and one person to initiate civility.

When I conduct civility workshops, participants are always surprised to hear about the costs of the little niggles of the contemporary workplace. Eighty percent of employees admit to losing time worrying about uncivil behaviors in their office, clinic, firm or organization. Time is money.

Workplace incivility is not bullying. It is often the result of that guy, or that girl's, one bad day and their individual one choice to not care or not listen. It could be as simple as not using the magic words: "please," "thank you," "hello" or "I'm sorry." It may be as distracting as that guy constantly checking his PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) for emails or texting during a presentation. It can also be as frustrating as that girl taking credit for someone else's idea or passing blame for her own mistake. It is as subtle as his sigh, her roll of the eyes and them withholding information. It could even be as damaging as that guy making a demeaning or derogatory remark to someone.

There are also times when it affects more than one person, like when a meeting leader has to repeat the entire introduction and agenda because that girl is late or when she does not hand in her part on time, again. Sometimes, it is not even work related, but it certainly impacts workplace harmony, like when they leave a mess for others to clean up.

Sounds familiar? These inconsequential acts, without any intent to harm, often occur in private, away from third parties. The doer often is not aware of the impact of his wrongdoing. Sufferers are embarrassed or shy and hence, they don't report it or even bother to tell their offenders. If left unacknowledged incivility can be contagious and escalate to create a vicious cycle.

I believe in the power of one, you. I am not saying that you be the one to walk around with a civility badge on and a pad ready to hand out incivility tickets to whoever lacks respect, restraint or responsibility. I am simply saying that acknowledgement of your own actions will have an impact. Easier said than done, you may be thinking. Allow me to enlighten you. When you are aware, you respect others, their values, their things and their time. You also restrain yourself from hurting them and you take responsibility for your actions.

Civility is contagious. Others will observe, notice and even imitate your actions. I believe in the power of one, you. You have the power to inspire others to contribute to civility.

Choose to contribute to civility; one action at a time. Manage your relationships with good intentions, actions and emotions. Do good and feel good.

If no one acknowledges workplace incivility, it cannot be corrected. Observe, take a close outsider's empathetic look at what you do. Take responsibility; one day, one choice, one action, one magic word at a time.

Even the most considerate of employees can have a blind spot, so ask a trusted colleague if you have little annoying habits that could be exasperating other team members.

Common courtesy seems so simple, but as you may have experienced, common courtesy is not common sense.

Civility starts with respect, self-respect. You accept yourself, just the way you are. You like you, without comparing. This translates into confident behaviour. Accept; value others and their contributions in the same manner.

Respecting does not mean tolerating, especially in the presence of uncivil conduct that affects your productivity and that of your team's. In such a case, you would not point fingers at that guy or that girl but would instead express your needs, in a firm but calm voice. You know the one; the non-judgmental, sensible and sensitive voice. It clearly displays restraint from anger and takes responsibility for consequences. "I need to focus on this report and I am having a hard time concentrating. I would really appreciate it, if you guys could be so kind as to please move to the staff cafeteria so I can get back to my work." No one is belittled and relationships can continue to evolve positively without resentment.

You have heard this many times before and it is true: "You cannot change others, those guys. The one person you can change is you." Once again the power of one; it starts with you.

By its word origin, civility reminds us to be good citizens and good neighbours and this applies to your office, your team, your institution, organization or corporation and especially in your cube dwelling when you are in such close proximity to your team mates.

So, the next time that you feel like singing on top of your desk, switch the track to the Spice Girls: Stop, right now, thank you very much, be the one with the human touch. Don't be those guys on the run. Slow it down. Be the one and maybe have some fun.

Have a Sticky Situation yourself, write to and Julie will reply promptly. You can also ask your questions on her Facebook page.