At Work & Theology 101

Why Is Common Courtesy Increasingly Uncommon at Work?

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Common courtesy is increasingly uncommon. In a 2011 survey, researchers Christine Porath and Christine Pearson found that 50% of workers experienced rudeness or incivility at least once per week in the workplace. That’s up from 25% in 1998.

Not surprisingly, they also found that rudeness comes at a cost that can be measured at the bottom line. Workplace incivility can result in lower productivity, higher turnover and absenteeism. They also found that it can spread beyond the office and into customer relationships.

Rudeness at Work

What does rudeness look like in the workplace? It can range from subtle things like eye-rolling to outrageous things like berating a colleague in a meeting.

Here are some common examples:

  • Gossiping and talking behind someone’s back.
  • Giving colleagues the silent treatment.
  • Interrupting someone when they are speaking.
  • Leaving trash and food containers in public areas like the office kitchen.
  • The work around – excluding colleagues from projects or meetings even though they should, by role and responsibilities, be included.
  • Being late for meetings or in other ways not respecting someone else’s time.
  • Speaking to people in a condescending way.

All of these examples of rudeness are forms of disrespect. A pastor-friend of mine once said that giving someone the silent treatment is the relational equivalent of saying, “I don’t respect and care enough about you to talk to you.”

Paul’s Call to be Courteous

Based on Paul’s description of love in I Corinthians 13:5, we know that love is not rude.

The word Paul uses for rude is closely related to another Greek word that means without proper form. This word picture reminds us that we were not made (formed) to treat each other this way.

In his letter to Titus, Paul explains how we are to treat one another by telling church leaders to

Remind them  to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people (Titus 3:1-2).

Isn’t it interesting that in this list of reminders, Paul connects our readiness for good work with being gentle and showing courtesy toward all people?

When we are not gentle and courteous, as Porath and Pearson found in their research, it can have a serious impact on our otherwise good work.

Overcoming Rudeness in the Workplace

Here are four ideas to help re-establish civility and courtesy in the workplace:

  • There are no ordinary people; You have never talked to a mere mortal. This great statement by C.S. Lewis is a reminder that all humans are made in the image of God. The dignity of man is the core motivation for honoring and respecting our colleagues.
  • You had me at hello. One simple way to break down barriers and raise the level of courtesy in the workplace is simply to greet one another. With a simple and genuine Hello! How’s it going today? we convey that we appreciate and want good things for our colleagues. Don’t wait for others to say hi to you first.
  • Listen, think, then speak. Rudeness is generally not premeditated. It’s usually a quick reaction to something we’ve heard or seen. Rather than reacting quickly, Paul calls us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. This helps us to think through constructive and encouraging contributions that can defuse inflammatory situations.
  • Be courageous and defend the honor of others. If you have habitually rude people in your workplace, gently confront them. Don’t let bullies establish the dominant culture of your workplace. The goal is not to bully the bullies, but to restore them to healthy relationships in the office.

Next in our series on Love at Work: Love does not insist on its own way.

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