The simple practice of making eye contact and saying hello can have powerful effects in the workplace, research shows. And an easy rule that encourages both employees and leaders to greet others turns out to be a surprisingly powerful tool for boosting your company’s success, as well as your own.
How nice are the people in your workplace to each other? Do they smile and say hello or glower at each other as they scurry to their desks (or meet over Zoom)? And when people have feedback to share, do they do it with kindness along with candour? Or do they insult, diminish, or even mock each other? And what about you? How do you interact with the people in your workplace?
The answers to these questions are a lot more important than you might think. Christine Porath, a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Business, TEDx speaker, and author, has spent her career researching the effects of uncivil behaviour in the workplace. Over multiple studies, she found that the effects of incivility are even worse than you might think. Sixty-six per cent of employees feel less motivated when they experience rudeness in the workplace, and 12 per cent have left their jobs because of it. Her studies have shown that experiencing rudeness causes people to make mistakes in their work, sometimes even when the correct information is right in front of them. Even if they’re not the target of rudeness themselves, just overhearing one person be rude to another negatively affects performance. Cisco executives reviewed her research and conservatively estimated that rudeness was costing the company $12 million a year.
Not only that, Porath found that being uncivil over time negatively affects the success of most business leaders. Though we all know people in positions of power who can be extraordinarily rude, the truth is that in the long run, this behaviour tends to undermine their success, she explains in a TEDx Talk that’s been viewed more than 3.5 million times. Research from the Center for Creative Leadership found that “the No. 1 reason tied to executive failure was an insensitive, abrasive, or bullying style,” she says. “It comes back to hurt them when they’re in a place of weakness or they need something. People won’t have their backs.”
Rudeness can be deadly.
In a healthcare setting, the consequences of an uncivil leader can be particularly dire. Porath often works with hospitals, where the pressures of dealing with life-threatening situations, the rushed nature of the work, and the sleep deprivation that often comes with it are an ongoing recipe for workplace rudeness. That’s very dangerous in an environment where a small mistake can have big consequences. She cites a case where that very thing happened — a doctor who was frequently uncivil shouted at his medical team, right before they had to give medication to a patient. The rattled personnel administered the wrong dose, and the patient died.
But an uncivil workplace doesn’t have to stay that way. The fixes for workplace incivility are easier than you might think because small changes can make a very big difference. “It doesn’t require a huge shift,” she says. “I found that thanking people, sharing credit, listening attentively, humbly asking questions, acknowledging others, and smiling has an impact.”
And this is where the 10-5 Rule comes in. This simple rule was created by Patrick Quinlan, then CEO of Ochsner Health System. “If you’re within 10 feet of someone, you make eye contact and smile, and if you’re within five feet, you say hello,” she says. Because of this simple little rule, something that took no time at all out of anyone’s workday, “civility spread, [and] patient satisfaction rose, as did patient referrals.”
If you’re within 10 feet of someone, make eye contact and smile, even if it means looking up from your smartphone. If you’re within five feet of someone, say hello, and perhaps ask them how they’re doing. Model this behaviour and encourage the people who work with you to do the same. Think about civility when giving feedback, commenting on others’ performance, and in all your other interactions.
There’s a growing audience of Inc.com readers who receive a daily text from me with a self-care or motivational micro-challenge or tip. (Want to learn more Here’s some information about the texts and a special invitation to an extended free trial.) Often, they text me back and we wind up in a conversation. Many are entrepreneurs, and like most business leaders, they’re striving to create workplaces and companies that reach their full potential. Creating greater civility, and using the 10-5 Rule, can make a bigger difference than you think.