For the last 20 years, I’ve studied the costs of incivility, as well as the benefits of civility. Across the board, I’ve found that civility pays. It enhances your influence and performance — and is positively associated with being perceived as a leader.
Being respectful doesn’t just benefit you, though; it benefits everyone around you. In a study of nearly 20,000 employees around the world, I found that when it comes to garnering commitment and engagement from employees, there’s one thing that leaders need to demonstrate: respect. No other leadership behavior had a bigger effect on employees across the outcomes we measured. Being treated with respect was more important to employees than recognition and appreciation, communicating an inspiring vision, providing useful feedback — or even opportunities for learning, growth, and development.
However, even when leaders know that showing respect is critical, many struggle to demonstrate it. If you’re one of those leaders, consider the following steps:
Ask for focused feedback on your best behaviors. This technique, originated by researcher Laura Roberts and colleagues, will help you see your most respectful self. Collect feedback via email from about 10 people (coworkers, friends, family). Be mindful of additional opportunities to be your best civil self. Leverage your interpersonal strengths
Discover your shortcomings. Gather candid feedback from your colleagues and friends not only on what you’re doing that conveys respect, but also on how you can improve. What do you do well? What could you do better? Listen carefully.
Ask, specifically, how you can improve. Once you have clarity on which behaviors you want to improve (first), gather information from others about how best to go about this. This “feedforward” method, originated by author Marshall Goldsmith, is a terrific way to gather specific ideas for improving your behavior. The process:
- Describe your goal clearly and simply to anyone you know.
- Ask for two suggestions. Encourage creative ideas.
- Listen carefully. Write the suggestions down.
- Respond with “thank you.” Nothing more. No excuses or defensiveness.
- Repeat by asking additional people.
Make time for reflection. Keep a journal to provide insight into when/where/why you are your best and when you are uncivil. Identify situations that cause you to lose your temper.
Consider tracking your own energy through the day via this energy audit. Reflection helps you identify strategies to maintain composure and be your best, most civil self.
The path toward building greater self-awareness and treating people more respectfully at work doesn’t have to be walked alone. While you’re working to improve your own behavior, encourage your team members to do the same.
The key to mastering civility begins with improving your self-awareness. Armed with this information, you can begin tweaking your behavior to enhance your influence and effectiveness. Small acts can have big returns.