How incivility shuts down our brains at work | Christine Porath, Georgetown University


[MUSIC PLAYING] I have one question for you. This question will define
your professional success more than any other. It’s a simple question. Who do you want to be? Whether you know
it or not, you’re answering this question every
day through your actions. Your success depends on
getting people to give more. How you show up and treat
people means everything. Little actions you
take make work better. You lift people up by
demonstrating respect, making people feel valued,
appreciated, and heard. You hold people down
by making people feel small, insulted,
disregarded, excluded. Now, of course,
we may not intend to make people feel this way. We may lack awareness, or we may
not be mindful of our actions and how they make people
feel, whether we’re tethered to technology, or
we’re just stressed out. The number one reason why people
say they’re uncivil at work is because they’re
stressed or overwhelmed. My own work experience led
me to study these effects. I was a college
athlete, and I interned at the largest sports
management and marketing firm in the world. And after graduating, I
followed my boss down to Florida to launch a sports academy. What I failed to realize
was that this subsidiary had a very toxic culture. And as incivility flowed
from the top leader down, people took out their
frustrations on others. And the organization lost,
as performance and commitment dropped and talent left. And the contrast between this
organization’s true culture showed me the difference
between what work was and what it could be. And since then, I’ve
been studying and trying to quantify the
differences that this has for people in organizations. And what I found is that your
interactions and the culture in which you work have a
very powerful effect on you, on your energy, on
your sense of thriving. This affects your performance,
it affects their organization’s performance, and it
affects the impact that you’ll have on the world. Incivility takes a real toll
on people, on their health, on their well-being,
on their performance. Across organizations,
over 2/3 of people say that they withhold effort
after experiencing incivility. 80% lose work time, worrying
about the interaction. And in experiments, incivility
decreases performance. But these effects even extend
to witnesses who were over 50% less effective on word
problems and 28% less creative on brainstorming tasks. But in these experiments,
negative emotions or reduced motivation
didn’t explain why performance and
creativity decreased. Incivility robs
cognitive resources, hijacking performance
and creativity. So even if you want to perform
at your best, you can’t. To learn more about
these effects, we studied how incivility
affects three different stages of the cognitive
system– how attentive we are to information,
how we process it, and how we use it
in problem solving. And in these studies, we
would prime incivility using a sentence
scrambling task. So we gave people 30
combinations of five words and asked them to use four
of them to create a sentence. Half received a list
with 15 rude trigger words– impolitely, interrupt,
bold, obnoxious, disturb, bother. The other half received
the same exact task, but their list contained
none of these rude triggers. So we wanted to investigate
whether incivility disrupts attention, causing people
to miss critical information altogether. And we tested this, using The
Invisible Gorilla, which some of you may be familiar with. So participants
are asked to count the number of basketball
passes made as the group moves around the room. Now, while counting, some
fail to miss this gorilla that walks right in between the
middle of the group, stops, pounds his chest
for several seconds. So we primed people
with incivility, then we showed them this video. Can you guess the
effect that that had? They were five times less likely
to notice anything unusual. Then we tested whether
incivility disrupts information processing and recall. And we found that those that
were exposed to incivility, that they were primed
with incivility, did 17% worse on
recalling information, these cognitive tasks. They also missed 43%
more math errors. And then we tested
whether incivility affects goal management. And goal management is really
critical to problem solving, decision making, and
planning future actions. We found that those that were
exposed to incivility really struggled with goal management. So it took them significantly
longer to make decisions, it took them longer
to physically record their decisions, and they
made significantly more errors. So what’s the big deal? Not spotting the
gorilla is one thing. But if we present this
situation in a hospital context, it can be fatal. A doctor detailed how a medical
team in his West Coast hospital had administered the wrong
treatment to a patient after having an
uncivil encounter with the supervising doctor. The necessary information
was right there on the patient’s
chart, but somehow they lacked the attention
and awareness to take it into account. Simple mistake, right? Well, that patient died. Now, what’s scary is that this
example is far from unique. So across a study of
4,500 doctors and nurses, 71% tied uncivil behaviors
to medical errors that they knew of. 27% tied this bad behavior to
the deaths of their patients. Incivility is like being
trapped inside a fog. Even if the bad behavior
isn’t aimed at us, we’re just witnesses,
it can put us in a real cloud of
negativity and have some pretty profound effects. Let me give you one example. I’ll often give participants
a brainstorming task where they have five minutes
to come up with as many ideas as they can for
how to use a brick. Witnesses of
incivility consistently come up with ideas like
this– break someone’s nose, smash someone’s finger, attack,
torture, or kill someone, beat or crush a person to
death, sink a body in a river, throw it through a window,
smash the experimenter’s face, even though the experimenter
didn’t do anything wrong, place it on the floor
to stub people’s toes. [LAUGHTER] Now, observing
rudeness also causes people to imitate
this behavior, though. So people that
witness incivility are three times
less likely to help. And their willingness
to share their resources drops by over 50%. Civility makes work better. How you show up and treat
people means everything. This is what I’ve found. Incivility chips away at
people and performance. Incivility hijacks focus. It robs people of
their potential, even if they’re just
working around it. Civility lifts people. You will get people to give
more and function at their best, if you’re civil. You’ll also build a culture that
helps make the world better. So in every interaction,
think, who do you want to be? [MUSIC PLAYING]

7 thoughts on “How incivility shuts down our brains at work | Christine Porath, Georgetown University

  1. I started working on this in 1997 but from the perspective that this set of behaviors (shun, intimidate, block, discredit) might be designed to repel outsiders from some percieved insider group…. the term incivility came on my radar screen working with VA hospitals (amazing work re:civility)…If we call these behaviors incivility then the "cure" would is to improve mindfulness and self control. If we look at the behaviors as a function of group norms, then the "cure" is to alter norms, if we look at these behaviors as a natural response to fear/uncertainty/downward mobility then we have an epidemic on our hands that makes Trump look smart because he is not civil. I don't have the answers but I'm interested in the conversation.

  2. Dr Porath, I read your article, Make Civility the Norm on Your Team, and while I would not want to disagree with any particular; I did want to add this small comment in a place where you might read it.

    I am in my off hours something of a Gamer, and the Gaming community is unfortunately quite infamous for the incivility of a small, but fierce minority of Elites, who give the larger community a rather bad name. I am as a rule quite civil with my fellow gamers, but when I encounter one of these individuals, can and do hit back most fiercely, shunning them with great fierceness, but I endeavor not to be petty about this always prefacing my comments with a variation on the following.

    Civility is a social contract, and I always endeavor to be civil to those who return that civility to me; but as you have demonstrated you do not participate in that contract; you have no right to expect to be treated as a member, … what follows can be rather unpleasant.

    but I have noticed the absolute amazement of some of the recipients of this treatment. In this strange society we all participate in, where people assume they are entitled to a wide range of rights, but somehow feel they have no responsibilities in return. A great many of these young people, and they do tend to be young men; often have never been challenged in this way, never for a moment question their right to be treated with civility while they ruthlessly and callously insult others most deeply on a whim.

    As these young men, will often be or go on to be the employees of your readers. I hope what I have shared here is worth your consideration and will prove of some value to you.

    Brightest Blessings, BB.

  3. Civility: Something people today lack

    I grew up in a world where if you had an simple disliking for somebody for no apparent reason then you just simply didn't engage with that person. You still held a civil tongue or even held the door for that person if they were directly behind you, anything less was an obtuse or disrespectful action on your part and for why? Perhaps the person simply has a similar nose shape to an uncle you did not like and something as simple as that is the reason you dislike him or have a lack of trust, but the person in question has done you no wrong, so until they do, any ill committed by you makes you the fucking arsehole. Today however the world has changed and now we live in a world where having a disliking for somebody is supposedly grounds to get a few mates involved and beat them into a coma, maybe even stab them a few times, all because at the subconscious level this person has a similar facial feature to somebody who had done you wrong. Not liking somebody is not grounds to go on the offensive be it physically or verbally, it makes you the aggressor and the arsehole in the situation

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