Friday, June 26, 2015

Sally from Sumpter Sends in This Civility Link.

What I found interesting in the comments is that some people think that college/university settings must be more civil than corporate settings--- except for the commenters who actually work at colleges/universities.

Years ago a colleague shared an idea he had about wanting to create a class on workplace civility. I guess he should have done that as we now need to teach people Civility 101.

The Misery


  1. In our second study, a stranger — a “busy professor” encountered en route to the experiment — was rude to participants by admonishing them for bothering her. Their performance was 61 percent worse on word puzzles, and they produced 58 percent fewer ideas in the brick task than those who had not been treated rudely. We found the same pattern for those who merely witnessed incivility: They performed 22 percent worse on word puzzles and produced 28 percent fewer ideas in the brainstorming task.
    Don't be mean. You don't have to be mean.

    1. Interesting the portrait of "a professor" that this perpetuates.

      I also find myself wondering *why* such an experience impedes performance. I'm guessing because such experiences create distracting feelings of helplessness, of wanting to respond in some way to the unpleasant experience, but having no effective way to do so. If that's the case (and given that this article is about workplaces and bosses, even though that professor wandered in somehow from a perhaps-not-quite-parallel universe), then the most precise parallel might be the effect on contingent faculty of all the brushoffs they encounter when trying to find out what work they'll have next semester, when they'll know, if they'll have an office, a computer, a classroom that is actually adapted to the needs of the class, etc., etc.

  2. Another interesting passage, with possible applicability to higher ed:

    The catch: There can be a perceived inverse relationship between warmth and competence. A strength in one can suggest a weakness of the other. Some people are seen as competent but cold — he’s very smart, but people will hate working for him. Or they’re seen as warm but incompetent — she’s really friendly, but probably not very smart.

    Leaders can use simple rules to win the hearts and minds of their people — with huge returns. Making small adjustments such as listening, smiling, sharing and thanking others more often can have a huge impact. In one unpublished experiment I conducted, a smile and simple thanks (as compared with not doing this) resulted in people being viewed as 27 percent warmer, 13 percent more competent and 22 percent more civil.

    Civil gestures can spread. Ochsner Health System, a large Louisiana health care provider, implemented what it calls the “10/5 way.” Employees are encouraged to make eye contact if they’re within 10 feet of someone, and say hello if they’re within five feet. Ochsner reports improvements on patient satisfaction and patient referrals.

    One thing I'm noticing is that the article veers rather wildly between the effects of varying behaviors by people with varying degrees of power in various systems, with little acknowledgement of the differences in power, or the complexity of relationships (the health-care setting is probably the best parallel for higher ed, and demonstrates some of the difficulties, starting with the fact that the apparent measure of success is "patient satisfaction and patient referrals," not how quickly the patient gets well enough to leave the hospital, whether (s)he returns, or some other measure of actual health (which may or may not, of course, be in the power of the medical personnel to create/promote in the first place).

    Mind you, I'm not arguing *against* being (or at least seeming) kind; I'm just noticing that all of this gets pretty complicated pretty quickly (and that the kindest boss can't do much about major structural issues with compensation, scheduling, job security, etc., etc., while even a surly boss whose power is somewhat constrained by fair, and fairly enforced, policies and procedures can probably be shrugged off by many of the workers (s)he supervises).

  3. Cassandra provides excellent analysis. Because I'm a frustrated experimenter, I now wish to address the following:

    "In one study, the experimenter belittled the peer group of participants, who then . . . came up with 39 percent fewer creative ideas during a brainstorming task focused on how they might use a brick."

    Here's my hypothesis: the mean quality of the "creative" ideas increased significantly with a bit of participant discomfort. Without belittling, snowflakey participants ran with the "every opinion is valid" motif and shat out anything that came to mind, and most of it was utter crap. But those who experienced a bit of self-doubt filtered themselves and tested their ideas against experience and logic. I mean, hey, they're bricks: they've been made for five millenia or more, and every good idea that could be had about them has surely already been put into practice, so the chance of coming up with something both novel and good is vanislingly small. The prudent participant would quickly recognize this and resort to listing known uses first, and injecting their own (likely inferior) ideas second.

    Anybody who has ever read the textual effluent of our students would understand that the notion that everything that pops into their addled pates is worthy of being recorded is horribly misguided at best. Quality trumps quantity in almost every intellectual endeavour. In theory.