Civility, at Least in the Workplace

The stress from the lack of civility in the political spectrum can easily find its way into the workplace. Learn how to avoid the Incivility Vicious Cycle.

It’s been a trying past year or so. Unfortunately, the stress from the lack of civility in the political spectrum can easily find its way into the workplace. That is not good for business.

In the world of business, you don’t get to choose your office mates. You arrive at work on that first day and most likely don’t know anyone, or one or two people at best. Your colleagues may or may not be people you agree with on a whole host of social and political issues, not to mention personal habits and ways of interacting. Yet, somehow, you all have to get along.

Unfortunately, the recent divisive political landscape can exacerbate the potential for disagreement, which inevitably leads to more stress. Here’s the unfortunate thing about stress in the workplace, which I call the Incivility Vicious Circle:














Stress leads to loss of awareness. When stressed, a person tends not to think of how his or her actions affect others. Instead, the person focuses more and more on how he or she feels and then acts accordingly, which can lead to incivility and rudeness. It stands to reason that when people are subjected to incivility and rudeness, they experience more stress. And now the vicious circle repeats itself, over and over again. The end result is a workplace that has a negative atmosphere, low morale, and low productivity.

Inevitably, you’ll be in a situation where a controversial topic comes up. How you choose to engage—or not engage—will determine whether you become entangled in the Incivility Vicious Circle. Here are some tips that can help:

  1. Stick to the issue and facts, not “alternative facts.”

  2. Avoid making it personal. Beware of comments such as, “Only an idiot would think that.” The other person will respond to the personal comments, and the conversation will devolve into an argument.

  3. Curb your inclination to respond in kind if the other person becomes offensive or says something personal.

  4. Don’t argue. Hold your emotions in check so you don’t let your comments become argumentative and heated. You will help keep the other person from going in that direction, too.


It is possible to avoid becoming caught in the Incivility Vicious Circle and to foster a neutral or, even better, a positive work environment. Here are four tips to keep the workplace environment positive and pleasant:

  1. Don’t put others down. Introduce people and include them in conversation. Be a good listener.

  2. Accept responsibility for your actions and give credit where it is due.

  3. Pick your fights carefully. You may not like some of your colleagues, but constantly criticizing them or questioning the way they do things will only lead to tagging you as the “complainer.” Ask yourself why your company values that person who frustrates you and focus on those qualities instead.

  4. If you are going to confront a person:
  • Do it privately.
  • Do it calmly.
  • Know what you want for an outcome.
  • Seek the other person’s “buy-in.” Without it, you’ve solved nothing.

Peter Post is a director of The Emily Post Institute (, great-grandson of Emily Post, and co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business.”