Giovinella Gonthier says rude behavior is a result of unlearned etiquette and a quick-paced lifestyle. When people are in a hurry, civility takes a back seat because nothing matters but the task at hand.

Bosses crucial in solving
workplace incivility

"Rude Awakenings: Overcoming Civility Crisis in the Workplace," by Giovinella Gonthier with Kevin Morrissey (Dearborn Trade Publishing, $25)

By Nancy Arcayna

Rudeness in the workplace comes in all shapes and sizes. It could be a snippy e-mail, loud cell phone conversation or anything else that may provoke cubicle warfare.

"The problem with incivility in the workplace is that people don't think it's a problem," said Giovinella Gonthier, author of "Rude Awakenings: Overcoming Civility Crisis in the Workplace." Her book is more than an etiquette guide. It provides a history of incivility and offers solutions for many common problems that stem from rudeness.

Gonthier served as an ambassador in several countries and at the United Nations in New York and was often appalled by the way she was treated when visiting major American corporations. "The employees use vulgar language and are disrespectful toward one another. Things have definitely gone awry," she said. "Everyone feels that no one has the right to tell them what to do. We are rude because we can be rude."

Gonthier found that people needed conflict management skills, listening skills and help learning how to create schedules and pace themselves.

"Individuals also let things fester nowadays. They hide behind e-mail and voice mail, which is antisocial. We've lost the ability to understand body language and annotation. It's always tougher to face someone."

Although a lack of social skills is causing problems in the workplace, Gonthier feels that not much is being done to resolve the problem. "In the United States we hire people based on their academic credentials and articulation," she said. "Neither of these things tell us how well prospective employees manage time and get organized. We have become efficient in dealing with machines, but we lack people skills. We expect our bodies to be like these robots. Politeness is not something that is measured in the workplace."

Gonthier presents training workshops at corporations and requires all workers to attend, from front-line employees to CEOs. If the big bosses aren't game, she refuses to carry on with the workshop.

Another big problem is overloaded schedules. Haste makes waste, she said. Most of us are doing things in a hurry, which causes the most instances of incivility. We are "busy being busy."

People don't want to be perceived as lazy, she said, but "I don't need to be running around chasing my tail to be efficient."

Sleep deprivation is another major contributing factor when it comes to incivility. "We stay up late watching trash TV and doing things that are unimportant. Most of us are overworking ourselves."

The increase in road rage is another result of overload, she said. "We are late for an appointment, so we want to hog the road when we should have just left a little earlier."

Violence out of incivility

Violence is directly connected to rudeness, Gonthier said. "If you don't nip it in the bud, it can escalate. We shouldn't wait for problems to happen."

Gonthier is saddened that it took a tragedy of the magnitude of Sept. 11 to get people to start thinking and talking about being nice to one another.

"The rest of the world has always had to put up with terrorists and war. We have been pretty lucky," she said. "But I'm quick to remind people that we have our share of terrorism, including the bombing of abortion clinics. If you put metal detectors in schools, you are only aiding and abetting the problem. The answer is to teach manners and civility to children."

Many youths today are growing up without a sense of community. Access to new media and wired communities have led people to be more individualistic, pursuing interests online rather than at home, where they may feel they have little in common with their neighbor, thus little caring.

Computers were meant to bring us closer together, but history has not worked out that way, she said. "Computers are in every classroom, but we cut back on all of the activities that foster communication, especially in public schools. Drama, band, choir, art and music -- things that teach us how to live in harmony -- are all phased out. These types of activities calm the senses and help people learn to appreciate to work with others."

And no office is complete without at least one jerk, Gonthier said, a bully who thrives on hostile behavior like criticizing or downplaying others' accomplishments, or using derogatory remarks or vulgar words. Yet bullies in the workplaces are rarely reprimanded. Gonthier stresses that bullies must be confronted. "If you cower, the jerk wins and you are a wreck. If you show that you are mentally strong, this will neutralize his position," she explained.

Misunderstandings are bound to arise. The kindest people can find themselves involved in conflict. The key is to recognize that a problem exists and to find a resolution before the situation escalates and deteriorates, she explained. Even something as mundane as an unreciprocated greeting can be cause for hurt feelings. "People crave acknowledgment. You should always say hello or good morning when you encounter co-workers," Gonthier said.

She added that one should not jump to conclusions if ignored. The other person might be preoccupied and not purposefully ignoring you. But if someone continually ignores your greetings, she suggests confronting them.

The bottom line: Everyone just needs to try to get along. "Cooperative relationships with co-workers are crucial," Gonthier said. "Not only does it make the workday more productive and pleasant, but it helps you sleep better at night."

Is there a solution?

When rude behavior permeates an office environment, management needs to get involved, and that often means setting example from the top. "One of the most crucial factors is that an organization's leaders need to demonstrate civil and professional behavior," Gonthier said. They must "walk the talk."

Managers can find solutions by being proactive, she said. The first step is acknowledging that rudeness is a problem while also recognizing civility is not an aspect of common sense, but learned behavior.

Gonthier suggests that managers include an evaluation of an employee's civility in appraisals.

"We all have our moments because we are flawed human beings," she said. A handful of tantrums can sometimes be overlooked -- maybe someone is just having a bad day -- but obvious behavioral problems need to be addressed.

In a public setting, always treat an uncivil situation in a civil manner, she said. "Turn your back, walk away and control your anger -- it's important to be mindful of your personal safety," she said. In a workplace setting, call the person on the rude action, she suggested. If a shouting match occurs or the person is defensive, suggest talking about it after both parties have time to calm down.

Face-to-face communication is still the best way to find out what is going on and to solve problems, she explained, citing the Golden Rule: "Treat others as you want to be treated."

Civility takes a little extra time and effort, she said, but slowing down and recognizing others' feelings will go a long way in easing the problem of rudeness.

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Calendars]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --