Review: Mastering Civility – A Manifesto for the Workplace by Christine Porath

civilityThis review first ran in the Jan. 16 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace

By Christine Porath

Grand Central Publishing


One question will define your career.

You answer it every day by what do and say with colleagues at work.

Do you lift people up? Or do you hold them down?

Choose wisely.

“How you treat people means everything – whether they will trust you, build relationships with you, follow you, support you, and work hard for you, or not,” says Christine Porath, author of Mastering Civility and an associate professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.

Sobering stats from the Civility in America 2016 survey show that 95 per cent of respondents believe we have a civility problem, 74 per cent believe we’re less civil now than we were a few years ago and 70 per cent believe incivility has reached crisis proportions.

Incivility takes its toll on our health and well-being. It wrecks morale and productivity. It repels customers. And it’s contagious, spreading and lingering among bystanders who watch people behaving badly to others.

“Incivility usually arises not from malice but from ignorance,” says Porath. “Most bad behavior reflects a lack of self-awareness. We don’t want to hurt others but we do. We’re oblivious and behaving in ways we’d never want to be treated.”

Porath’s created an incivility test to help flag your bad behaviors and blind spots.

Everyone knows better than to belittle, berate and humiliate coworkers or fly off into rages at work.

But do you neglect to say please and thank you? Do you email or text during meetings? Take too much credit for collaborative work? Ignore invitations?  Keep people waiting needlessly? Speak unkindly of others?

To become more civil and inject greater civility into your workplace, Porath says you need to focus first on the fundamentals. Do four things differently and she promises you’ll see welcome changes in how people respond to you.

Start by saying please and thank you. Small gestures of civility matter far more than we think, says Porath.

“If you want to connect with your employee or team, lead with warmth. Warmth is the pathway to influence. It facilities trust, information, and idea sharing.”

Smile more. Kids smile as much as 400 times a day. Yet only 30 per cent of adults smile more than 20 days a day. “Without saying a word, you can use it to put people at ease, build rapport and inspire.”

Build relationships with subordinates. “Relationships with people lower than you in an organization matter. To relate well with a subordinate, you first have to acknowledge him or her. Feeling acknowledged matters. In order to acknowledge someone personally, it helps to actually know who the person is.”

Back in 2012, the CEO of investment company The Motley Fool told employees they’d get their 20 per cent annual bonus only if every one of them knew the names of all their colleagues by year end. At the time, 250 people worked for the company. “He could have issued a proclamation from on high: let’s treat one another like family,” says Porath. “He could have created general metrics around collegiality or culture. Instead, he realized that relationships came down to a few basic behaviors. In order to strengthen interactions between people, everyone should know one another by name.”  The employees learned everyone’s names and earned their bonus.

Porath also recommends actively listening to what people are saying. It’s hard work giving people our undivided attention and it demands a surprising amount of energy and concentration. “If employees don’t believe their bosses are listening, they’re far less likely to offer ideas and helpful suggestions. They’re also more likely to become emotionally exhausted and to quit.”

The good news is our behavior isn’t fixed, says Porath. We can learn to be more civil. “All of us, no matter how we’ve behaved in the past, can improve. If we care the least about ourselves, our work and our organizations, we must improve. Strive to listen more attentively. Acknowledge people. Say hello. Smile more. Look to include others, especially those who are forgotten or who are in need of our understanding and help.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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