Q: I work for someone who is generally uncivil. If I were calling names, I'd say he was quite a jerk. It's not personal; he is abrupt and abrasive with all of us, and while the substance of his feedback is generally on track, it gets lost in the tone. What can we do?
A: Here's my shout out to the world — take the time to be kind.
Incivility abounds, with people neglecting the humanity of others in their day-to-day interactions.
This can be annoying in a one-time experience, say, when shopping or driving. However, it can have a deeper effect when it's part of an important day-to-day relationship, as with your boss. In my view, it's worth it to understand why people behave unkindly and embark on a campaign to change our culture, one interaction at a time.
Why do people behave this way?
Some people are clueless, oblivious to the effect that their style has on others. This often shows up in casual encounters in which people just don't pay attention to others around them, and unintentionally create an abrasive moment.
There are also those who equate kindness with weakness, which can yield a boss who blusters, demands and shouts. They may use insulting language when providing direction, especially if some correction or training is needed. And, unfortunately, it looks like this is the type of boss you've ended up with.
So, what can you do about it?
Create a kindness buffer. It's rational to put up walls against people who are negative to you, however, it can feed a dysfunctional dynamic. So, try countering his brush offs or attacks with a kind but deflecting approach — think tai chi. This also models the type of behavior you'd like from him, and if you can spread this to others on the team, it might turn out to be contagious!
If he is abrupt but not vindictive, you could try direct feedback. How do you think he'd react to, "I appreciate that you have valuable feedback on my performance, but I shut down when you raise your voice and it's hard to really take it in."
If he's a bully — really a bully — then it becomes an HR issue. You (and your co-workers) do not have to put up with that, and you should document should it escalate.
Outside of interactions with your boss, fortify yourself on other fronts in order to cope with him.
Keeping kindness as a theme, let it become your practice. Find easy opportunities to bring humanity to your contacts with people: making eye contact and thanking the barista, letting another driver merge with a smile and a wave, or getting the door for someone with their hands full. The act of being kind will help fill your tank.
And don't let his behavior define your self-concept; that's the ultimate win for power-driven incivility. If this becomes a pattern, going beyond bad moments or occasional bad days, it may be time for a larger change on your part. This type of corrosive behavior truly can be toxic, so be sure to look out for your broader well-being.
If you want a deeper read on kindness, check out "How Kindness Became Our Forbidden Pleasure," at the Brain Pickings website at: http://tinyurl.com/p3l9jd7.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.