This year my newsletters have addressed corporate policies, training programs, culture changes, and many other conventional ways you can address bullying behavior at work. As you know, however, if the decision makers in your organization are not on board with building a positive workplace, then policies and training programs will be difficult to implement.
So here are five things you can do to help keep things civil around the office without asking your boss for an entire corporate culture makeover.
1. Be the change you want to see. I know; it's cliché. But fact is we don't pay much attention to our own communication most of the time, and of course it's easy to point fingers and argue that others aren't being very nice. Awareness is half of the battle - once you start being more cognizant of your behavior and communication it becomes easier to change it. We call this self-monitoring. If you are a high self-monitor, then you probably pay close attention to your communication and adjust it as needed for the situation. If you are a low self-monitor then you probably don’t pay much attention to your communication, and you likely are treating others disrespectfully without even realizing it. Make it a goal to become a high self-monitor.
2. Stand up for others. One of the reasons I became so interested in bullying and incivility at work was the fact that they are a social phenomenon - it's never about just the bully. Bullying and other uncivilized behaviors happen at work because other people allow them to (yes that means you). If you witness someone getting berated consistently during staff meetings, for example, the chances of you or anyone else standing up for them is slim to none. Researchers call this the bystander effect, and the reason it exists is that others are afraid of being targeted next.
Forget all that. When you see a person being mistreated at work, stand up for them. Plain and simple. Something like, "Hey John the meeting will be more productive if we all try to stay calm here. I know this is a stressful project but we need to work together" should suffice. The more often you do that, the more often others will too. You and all of your peers are stronger, collectively, than one bullying person. You have much more power to end the bullying as a group, and if you band together, you will be successful in doing so.
3. Dish out two compliments a day. In today’s economy and the resulting stress it’s easy to get frustrated with others when you feel like they aren’t performing or when they make mistakes. But, that’s not helping build a more civil work environment. Of course it is important to correct mistakes or make process improvements – but it’s also important to tell people when they do things right – even the little things. And you don’t have to be anyone’s boss to pass out praise.
If you happen to be walking through the reception area and overhear the receptionist handling a call with a positive attitude, then compliment him or her on it. If you see a co-worker wiping down the counters in the break room, then say thank you. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but it could make a huge difference in that person’s day, and they just might turn around and compliment someone else… even a customer!
4. Rally for your community. Volunteering provides a multitude of psychological and physical benefits. It brings a heightened sense of well-being, relief from insomnia, a stronger immune system… and it helps build confidence and self-esteem as a result of the appreciation we feel from those people we help. Take Cami Walker for example. At 35 she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and only after focusing on giving to the people around her did the pain she was feeling start to ease. Since then she’s written a book and started a movement of giving. Her website is http://www.29gifts.org/.
In addition to the personal benefits you will feel for giving your time to help others, certainly when your department volunteers to help the community together, the benefits of team building are eminent. So check out Charity Navigator and Volunteers of America to find a volunteering opportunity right for you and your team. Invite everyone to participate (even the uncivil ones). You’ll definitely notice a positive change in the way you interact with each other at work as a result of everyone feeling better about themselves and about each other.
5. Play the Best-Self Game. Kim Cameron, author of Positive Leadership: Strategies for Extraordinary Performance, suggests this activity to get the positive communication flowing and the self-esteem growing. During your next meeting, ask everyone to write down two nice things about their co-workers on separate sheets of scratch paper. At the end of the meeting, each person walks away with a list of traits others appreciate in them, an understanding of their own strengths, and a set of thank you’s for those times they stepped up and went the extra mile.