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Christine Porath, an associate professor at the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business, has been studying the rise of rudeness in the workplace for nearly 20 years. Her disturbing findings warrant the attention and response of leaders around the world.

She summarizes the gist of her research in her New York Times article, No Time to Be Nice at Work.

Even though a growing woman rudeness headachenumber of people are disturbed by incivility, I’ve found that it has continued to climb over the last two decades. A quarter of those I surveyed in 1998 reported that they were treated rudely at work at least once a week. That figure rose to nearly half in 2005, then to just over half in 2011.

From out-and-out insults to interrupting others or ignoring them, the list of on-the-job rudeness includes making rude comments, using crude language, taking undue credit and failing to give proper credit, failing to use basic words of cordiality such as “please” and “thank you,” ridiculing the opinions and ideas of others, talking down, consistently giving the most onerous tasks to one person… the list goes on and on.

Civility and Leadership

Rudeness, among peers or from boss to report, erodes health and promotes disease including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, ulcers, and more. Before causing physical harm, incivility decreases worker efficiency and productivity.

On the flip side, leaders perceived as civil are also perceived as more competent. They get better results from their employees and move up the corporate ladder more quickly.

According to Porath, basic civil behavior on the part of bosses garners huge returns. Below is a list of easy-to-do actions that don’t take a great amount of effort but bring back substantial returns.

  • Listening actively
  • Smiling
  • Saying “hello”
  • Sharing good news
  • Thanking more often
  • Asking about health
  • Asking about family
  • Asking for opinions
  • Supporting ideas
  • Ignoring distractions
  • Supporting mistakes
  • Sharing information
  • Asking for help
  • Offering help
  • Including “please” in a request


Now Add Leadership Intimacy

Start with the actions above, if you don’t do all of them all the time. Then apply Leadership Intimacy, the intimate understanding of the needs of your employees. Address the specific preferences of each of your direct reports. For example, as an intimate leader, you know which of your reports needs more or less moral support and how often each needs to be encouraged or congratulated.

Someone may not like to be greeted in the morning before finishing her first cup of coffee. Another may love surprise Post-it notes of thanks or congratulations on their laptop monitor.

Intimate leaders know the preferences of the people they lead, go beyond common courtesy, and deliver the greatest possible impact on their employees and on the organization.

Helanie Scott
Helanie Scott
Helanie (pronounced yeh-LAH-nee) Scott, CEO and founder of Align4Profit in Dallas, Texas, has driven stunning leadership and cultural transformations for an impressive list of organizations. She has mastered the ability to connect with her audiences in the boardroom, classroom, on stage, or in one-on-one coaching sessions. Helanie’s Align4Profit clients rave at the way her engaging programs freshen outdated mindsets and deliver results-oriented, aligned action.