Denis Denuto, the lovable if hopeless lawyer in the Australian movie ‘The Castle’, famously said, “It’s the vibe of the thing your Honour”. These words summed up what made the Kerrigan’s home so special, even if it wasn’t immediately visible to the eye. Similarly, what makes a positive workplace culture can be a hard thing to define, and it’s often about how we feel when we are at work.

An important part of creating that good ‘vibe’ is focusing on civilities – how we speak and act towards one another in the workplace as well as how we communicate and collaborate. How we do these things has a huge impact on whether we feel respected and valued.

The proliferation of technology into all aspects of life has led to unprecedented access, disclosure and expression. The pressure to be constantly in contact, and the 24/7 workplace connection has led to increased time pressures and deadlines and in our haste civility is easily sacrificed. The downside of this is that a culture of criticism and lack of respect for others’ feelings can easily arise.

As our workplaces become more diverse, differences in background, culture, race, education, gender and even management style also inform the way in which we communicate with one another and can give rise to misunderstandings.

Whilst they might start out as small things, daily incivilities can lead to decreased morale, lost productivity, poor customer service, and can lead to workplace complaints and lawsuits. You would be amazed at how often the complaints of workplace bullying we deal with start with an allegation that the respondent never said ‘hello’ to the complainant each day.

Common incivilities at work

Some of the most common incivilities we hear about in our work include:

  • Speaking tersely or aggressively to co workers
  • Using profanity in the workplace
  • Failing to acknowledge the work of others or thank others for their work
  • Talking over people in meetings
  • Excluding co workers from lunches, meetings or social events
  • Whinging and gossiping about co workers
  • Sending inappropriate emails and texts.

Changing a workplace culture is often seen as a considerable project requiring time and resources. However we all have it within us to make an impact at ground level

Respect Exercise

Here’s a little ‘respect exercise’ for you and your team to try over the coming week – we would love to hear from you whether you think it makes any difference to your workplace ‘vibe’.

1.Make it your practice to greet people in your immediate workspace each day.

2. Respond within 24 hours to emails and phone calls and if you can’t, let them know why.

3. Make a point of spending time with someone in the office you don’t know very well – ask them to join you for lunch, talk to them after a meeting or include them in a work project.

4. Write down on a piece of paper what pushes your ‘buttons’ at work. Are you impatient with people learning something new? Do you have a short fuse if things aren’t going your way or a fondness for blue language? Stick that piece of paper somewhere you can see it and make a commitment to better managing your response to these triggers. Check your behaviour each day.

5. Show respect to others in meetings by showing up on time, giving attendees your undivided attention, switching off your mobile phone or device and not talking over people.

These small changes in behaviour can make a big difference in how people feel about work. Civility really is the bedrock of a positive workplace culture.