Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace


Christine Porath, Grand Central Publishing, 191 pages, $25. A Georgetown University management professor, Christine Porath in “Mastering Civility” brings us a slender, but compelling, guide to treating others respectfully and protecting oneself from those who don’t. The focus is on the serious business risk posed by failing to foster a culture of civility. It is impossible to read this practical volume without thinking about the recent presidential election and the aftermath. The book begins with a short but powerful synthesis of the academic research relating to the mounting costs and growing prevalence of incivility. It turns out that the stakes are high indeed. The frequently heard dismissive recommendation to “suck it up” in the face of workplace indignities is inconsistent with the overwhelming evidence of just how institutionally damaging such behavior is. The problem isn’t just that ignoring bad behavior allows it to fester and spread throughout the organization. It is that the performance of those who do suck it up declines precipitously. What is more, customers avoid businesses whose employees demonstrate a lack of civility, whether toward them or toward each other. Porath makes a persuasive case that unchecked incivility, even by a relatively small number of individuals, acts “as an infectious pathogen” that radically undermines corporate effectiveness. The heart of “Mastering Civility” is a practical checklist for assessing institutional and individual civility, on the one hand, and executing a systematic cultural and personal overhaul, on the other.