7 Ways to Neutralize Jerks in the Workplace, and Why You Should

September 30, 2013

In a recent article in the Financial Post entitled The hidden costs of letting workers act like jerks, author Craig Dowden presented a number of research studies showing the adverse effects of incivility in the workplace.

A few of the key findings were as follows:

  • “94% of people who are disrespected at work will get even with the offender”
  • “88% of people who are disrespected at work do not just retaliate against the offender, but will get even with the organization as well”
  • In two controlled studies, where people were exposed to uncivil behavior, their performance decreased 33% in one study and 61% in the other study. Creativity decreased 39% and 50% respectively.

Incivility in the workplace is a drain on productivity and, by extension, profitability.

So, what are some ways to combat incivility and to make sure habitual jerks are not affecting coworkers?

Neutralizing Jerks in the Workplace

1. Show the Worst Offenders the Door

Assuming you have given the employee a fair chance to correct the behavior and that you are clear on the HR side of things, say goodbye. Some people simply do not play well with others, and these people are poison to an organization. You will see a marked improvement in morale when they have left the building.

2. Broker Peace

If the incivility is between a couple of individuals whose issues are spilling over onto the rest of the team, do your best to broker a peace. If the source of the issues is professional, do your best to help them work through them. If the issues are personal, make sure they understand that they need to leave them at the door.

3. Isolate the Offenders
Jerks in Worplace Drain Productivity | Isolated Blueberry

In smaller organizations and departments, this is not always possible; however, it is a useful technique when it is available. In the case of feuding parties, you can (within operational bounds) try to make sure they do not cross paths as often. In the case of individual problems, you can evaluate ways to isolate their job function or limit their exposure to the staff members they are most affecting.

4. Look at Your Culture

Are disrespect and incivility the norms in your organization? Are they more prevalent than they should be? Are they condoned, albeit unintentionally, because they are not addressed when they occur? You can have a culture of respect or a culture of disrespect — be honest about what you have and address it in the ways below.

5. Look at Performance Issues Not Just People Issues

In my experience, much of the uncivil behavior between team members derives from performance issues. Sure, the personalities take over after that, but the problem, at its root, stems from some sort of professional issue.

  • Accounting never delivers the reports by the 3:00 deadline, and I have to pay my day care for an extra hour because I always come home late.
  • The drivers don’t read the notes on the delivery instructions, and I spend half my day talking them through being lost. Then I get in trouble for not getting my work done.
  • Jeni in Sales never adds any notes to the CRM system, and every time an upset client is passed to me, I have to make them repeat their entire issue, which just makes them more upset.

Make sure to look beyond mere personality conflicts when investigating the source of issues between parties or departments.

6. Train, Train, Train

One way to address the performance issues that might be underlying some of the incivility in your organization is both individual and team training. In the case of Jeni above, individual coaching and training might be the best approach. In the case of the Accounting department, either team training or some cross-departmental workshops could help bring the parties together in jointly solving some of the challenges they face. The team that trains together stays together.

7. Lead by Example

Nothing replaces leadership. If your management team (or you) does not show respect in the workplace, do not expect the people downstream to behave any differently. Do as I say, not as I do does not work in organizations. If leadership sets a great example, only a handful will not follow it. If the leadership sets a poor example, most people will follow that.

Start Where the Challenges Are

The above list, while helpful, will not cure every source of conflict. Strong cultures still have plenty of disagreement and friction within them; however, in a strong culture, disagreements are much less likely to result in incivility and rudeness.

If the entire culture is wanting, that is not something that can be fixed overnight. Start where incivility is most prevalent. If the primary sources are a few individuals, the above techniques should help you find ways to make sure their uncivil behavior does not affect the rest of your team. If the source of the issues is an entire culture of incivility, then the challenge will be much larger and take a great deal of time to correct.

Just remember, tone begins at the top. So, when you are working to rid your team of uncivil behavior embrace the once concept that keeps everyone treating their coworkers as they should:

ABP: Always Be Professional.



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