Play nice at work

The New York Times recently carried an article about the growth of rudeness and bad behaviour at work over the last 20 years. Christine Porath, the author, noted, “How we treat one another at work matters. Insensitive interactions have a way of whittling away at people’s health, performance and soul”. These interactions release hormones called glucocorticoids leading to potential health problems.

The more interesting part of the research on this topic looked at why we are uncivil and more than half said they felt overloaded with their work and 40% said they have no time to be nice. Nearly half linked career progression to using their position power and being nice was seen as weak. Bosses attitudes were enlightening. Some 25% believe they will be less leader-like if they are nice at work. Nearly 40% feared they would be taken advantage of if they weren’t projecting a tough manner.

There seems to be no shortage of bosses who can only muster position power, know it and so exploit it to the full because they are so insecure. Strip away their titles and they are nobodies. The way people become the boss is part of the issue. The individual who can succeed and be accountable in their own little world is promoted to be in charge of others who are nothing like them. They find that the skills that got them selected as leader are not what they need to be a real leader. Their fall back strategy is to use their position power and lord it over their underlings, driving them through fear.

Ironically, the Center For Creative Leadership found the number one characteristic associated with senior executives’ failure was their insensitive, abrasive or bullying style. So we are left with a bunch of wannabe Napoleons, bossing us around and going nowhere in their careers.

What are we looking for in business? We want our people to come up with ideas, innovations, creative solutions. Some mini-me Napoleon type is not going to command anything more than compliance and so the innovation capacity of the organisation is hamstrung. In such a fast-paced competitive world of doing more, faster, with less, this is a big opportunity cost. From our own research on what engages employees to make the discretionary effort to go above and beyond, we found that feeling valued was the critical trigger.

If the mentality is to beat up people to let them know who is the boss, then the “I feel valued” trigger never gets pulled, the ideas do not flow, the cooperation doesn’t happen and the information is not passed on when you need it.

We want leverage, a next generation of leaders to be developed who can move the organisation forward. Youthful tolerance for bad boss behaviour is very low and they simply vote with their feet and go across to the competition.

Bosses need to become better time managers, so they are in better control of their emotions. They need to be trained in how to smile when they interact with their staff. Sounds simplistic but there is a whole raft of things going on in the background for that to happen and they are all good. We want the bosses to be better at communication, explaining the why and not just the what or the how. By the way, rather than pontificating, we want to use the Socratic method of asking questions which lead the staff member to their own discoveries of the why. This is how we get ownership of the ideas and the commitment to follow through with them.

We want them to praise people in a smart way. Tell the staff member what they specifically did well, link this to the bigger picture, reinforce that they should keep doing it and thank them. We want coaching that is not critique based around past mistakes but forward looking—what they did that was good and how they could do it even better the next time.

Building a positive, supportive workplace must be the boss’s focus if the organisation wants to succeed through its people. We start with attitudinal change leading to behaviour change, producing performance change.