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How Civility Literally Pays: Tips from Christine Porath

Christine Porath

After graduating college, Christine Porath thought she had landed her dream job as an intern for the world’s largest sports management and marketing firm.

The only problem: It was a toxic work environment.

That’s when she asked herself a career-making question: What are the objective costs of a toxic work environment, and what are the real benefits of one that helps people thrive?

Based on 20 years of research, she says: “I’ve learned that our small interactions with people every day affect our energy level. As a result, they affect our performance, our organization’s performance, and ultimately the impact that you and the organization will have on society.”

“We hold people down by making them feel small, excluded, insulted, belittled. Now, of course, we don’t necessarily mean to do this,” she says. But people can feel it in ways that run the gamut from being insulted in front of people, to someone withholding information, to someone not acknowledging you, to someone being on their phone the whole time that you’re speaking to them.

“Research bears out how this tends to just chip away at us and our well-being and our sense of identity,” she says. And especially for women, it can lead to really negative health consequences and emotional distress.

Another cost: If you’re working in teams, incivility will cause teammates to shut down and not share their good ideas. It also causes people to be less likely to help others—specifically, three times less likely.

In short, she says: “We lose out on people’s contributions. Incivility also hijacks focus, performance, and creativity.”

How to Demonstrate Civility

Research shows that the single most important behavior for demonstrating civility is respect. In addition, it causes people to be 55 percent more engaged in their work.

More civil people are also twice as likely to be seen as leaders. They are more liked and trusted.

So how do you, as a leader, demonstrate that respect for others is at the heart of civility?

“It’s important that we connect first and then lead,” says Porath. “Use warmth first. You want to set that tone because warmth is primary. People judge you first on warmth.”

Interested in testing how civil you are? Porath encourages a little objectivity since we notoriously miss how our behavior affects others. So, you might ask a few friends. Or, try the assessment on her website.

Christine Porath spoke at the Conferences for Women breakout session, Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for Life. Listen to the session.

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