How civility matters for you and your network

With New Year's resolutions around the corner, now is a perfect time to take stock of how we’re treating one another. Consider how civil you are, and what you can do to improve because research shows it can pay to be polite instead of political.

Civility pays. In a recent study we conducted at a biotech firm, we found that employees seen as civil were more likely to be sought for information, and twice as likely to be viewed as leaders. And all this civility pays off as the civil performed 13% better. Our experiment revealed that people were 59% more willing to share information with and 71% more motivated to work harder for a civil person compared to an uncivil person. They were also 1.22 times more likely to recommend a civil person (for a job).

During this season of acknowledging others, gift giving, and resolutions, consider how you might improve your civility. As part of my ongoing research, I’ve developed a quick online quiz to help identify areas of high and low civility and offer specific, actionable recommendations to make us more civil in the workplace.

Our latest research, conducted with Alexandra Gerbasi, Sebastian Schorch, and Kristin Cullen, shows how civility is contagious - the benefits spreading as friends and friends of friends reciprocate civility. Small actions not only benefit you but they also contribute to a cycle that fosters greater civility across your networks. Conversely, research has also shown that the negative effects of incivility can spread to bystanders, which can impair thinking and performance.

In one study, I found that civility also fosters psychological safety, a key predictor of success for teams at Google. Civility lays the foundation for people to feel comfortable to speak up and share ideas and information. In another experiment, I found that when people offered a suggestion civilly, as compared to uncivilly interrupting and overriding, it increased psychological safety by 35%.

Making small adjustments such as listening, smiling, and sharing can have huge impacts (even on your health!). In one experiment I conducted, a smile and simple thanks (as compared to not doing this) resulted in people being viewed as 27% more warm, 13% more competent, and 22% more civil. We don’t do these little things nearly enough. Research shows most people express gratitude at work less than once a year. Offering a simple and genuine “thank you” can improve others’ confidence and inspire them to help.

By being mindful of our actions, we can increase our odds of civility and all of its attendant benefits, not just for ourselves but for everyone around us. This year, make civility a priority. You can lift yourself and those around you. In every interaction, you have a choice. Who do you want to be this year?

Christine Porath is an associate professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. Her research focuses not only on the effects of bad behavior, but also how organizations can create a more positive environment where people can thrive. She shows how individuals and organizations benefit in terms of performance, creativity, well-being, and health. She is also the co-author of The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It.