“A leader’s job is to remove the obstacles to productive work—that includes rooting out incivility and replacing it with a culture of generous and supportive communication.”

New research from SHRM revealed that two-thirds of the 1000 US workers surveyed have experienced incivility at work in the last month. The most frequent forms of incivility were:

  • Addressing others disrespectfully (36% observed this behavior),
  • Interrupting or silencing others while they were speaking (34% observed this behavior),
  • Excessive monitoring or micromanaging (32% observed this behavior).

This bad behavior has real consequences, impacting an employee’s sense of belonging and dramatically increasing their likelihood of leaving the organization.

The numbers don’t surprise me. In the last month, clients have shared about colleagues who called them by the wrong name and responded to gentle corrections with messages like, “You knew who I meant,” or “Everyone’s names sound familiar. Don’t be so sensitive.”

I also know that statistically, 50% of all leaders underestimate their team’s ability to lead itself*, so I’m not surprised by the micromanaging either.

What do we do about this epidemic of incivility? Org-wide responses, including benchmarking your organization’s tendency toward incivility, and offering conflict resolution training, are worthy investments. But you don’t have to wait for the organization’s executives to take action.

Here are three tips any leader can take to improve civility on your team.

Establish communication norms. In a team meeting, ask your colleagues to identify the communication norms that make for good team functioning. They might say things like, speak with respect and kindness, take turns talking but manage your air time, or address conflict early and with curiosity. Together, make a list of shared communication norms. Post them in a public space, ask colleagues to commit to them, and revisit them frequently.

Have zero tolerance for bad behavior. Once the expectations are clear, you can establish a zero-tolerance policy for incivility. How you confront a violation will depend on the circumstance, but when you fail to address incivility, it communicates that it will be tolerated.

Practice generous communication. An absence of incivility is only the first step to having a positive communication culture. To thrive as a team or an organization, you need to practice generous communication. This includes:

  • Celebrating successes and milestones;
  • Noticing and naming strengths;
  • Giving credit to everyone who contributed;
  • Respecting differences;
  • Asking more questions with genuine curiosity, particularly when there are differences of opinion;
  • Delegating more responsibility and authority; and,
  • Inviting feedback and receiving it gracefully.

A leader’s job is to remove the obstacles to productive work—that includes rooting out incivility and replacing it with a culture of generous and supportive communication. The research suggests we have work to do.

Need help shifting culture in your organization? Ad Lucem Group can help you shift culture on your team, or transform your whole organization. Reach out to request your free strategy consultation meeting.



*Hoegl, M., & Muethel, M. (2016). Enabling shared leadership in virtual project teams: A practitioners’ guide. Project Management Journal, 47(1), 7–12. https://doi. org/10.1002/pmj.21564  
Amber Johnson, PhD

Amber Johnson, PhD

Senior Culture & Strategy Advisor

As a facilitator and consultant, Amber helps companies connect their purpose to their core strategies and behaviors in order to shape culture and drive business results. Amber has global leadership experience with World Vision and the US Peace Corps and has served as a leadership development, organization change, and strategy consultant to organizations including digital marketing agencies, software firms, universities, health care systems, manufacturing companies, utilities, and non-profit organizations.  She is a regular contributor at Forbes.com, where she writes about culture, strategic planning, and building positive organizations. Amber earned a Ph.D. in Values-Driven Leadership from Benedictine University, with a dissertation focused on the success factors of leading global change initiatives. Learn more about Amber here.

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