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K-State Research and Extension
123 Umberger Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506-3401

September 29, 2020

Breaking the Cycle of Incivility

Submitted by Gregg Hadley

Today’s society seems to be marked with incivility, intolerance, and quick tempers. If you do not like an act, a result, an opinion, your pandemic-described life – just yell and scream about it. The target of the tirade then moves on to take things out on the unfortunate person who unwittingly offers them an opportunity, further perpetuating a cycle of incivility. Even though most try to refrain from getting caught up in the incivility vortex, everyone is at least indirectly yet significantly affected by it.

Let’s think about this past fair. Perhaps a parent, volunteer, fair board member or whoever didn’t like a decision, the too-slow or too-fast pace of a judge, the stall they were assigned in the barn, how far they had to walk from the parking lot, or having to wear a mask. They see you - an Extension professional doing your best to assist the fair in running smoothly. They unleash their angry tirade at you.

Perhaps later that day - or a week or month later – you run into one of your colleagues. They promised you something a while back and have not delivered on that promise. Fueled by the wrath you took in the earlier incident, you go up to them and … .

Many in today’s society would choose to express their displeasure in an uncivil manner. Just let them have it! Everybody does it. But here is the point where you can break the pattern of incivility. You are in control of how you act. You can greet your colleague in a friendly manner, inquire about how they are doing, and then ask about that unfulfilled promise.

Now, both incivility and civility can get you what you want. Choosing incivility may get you what you want now, but it may cause you the loss of a colleague to work with. The civil approach gets you what you want and further develops your collegial relationship with that person – a win/win solution.

Why am I bringing this up? There have been instances where people in our system have gotten caught up in the cycle of incivility and treating each other in less-than-collegial ways. When I first became director, a hostile work environment was the most common reason departing colleagues gave for their resignation. We dedicated a lot of time and effort into creating a better sense of collegiality and a better workplace climate. It made a difference. The number of people indicating a hostile work environment as a reason for departing a system dropped. I fear that this trend of incivility is eroding the teamwork and collegiality gains we made.

Do not let incivility perpetuate in our system. When faced with a choice of uncivil and civil ways to respond to a situation, be the example our society needs. Choose civility.