I get it. You’re crazy busy. You’re running a million miles an hour. But if you want to make things even worse, choose not to take time to be kind to others.
In this high-speed modern world, it’s easy to think that we’ve moved past the need for little words like “please” and “thank you.” In an effort to be more efficient, our emails tend to skip right past the greeting and rarely include much of a closing beyond the automated signature. We ignore what we don’t want to hear and insist we are right. We talk over others and interrupt them. Frankly, we’re not as nice at work as we know we should be.
This concern isn’t just a wistful argument for days gone by. A piece in the New York Times carries the subtitle “We’re rude at work, and it’s hurting profits, health and happiness.” Christine Porath, an associate professor at Georgetown University, reports on some of the science:
Incivility also hijacks workplace focus. According to a survey of more than 4,500 doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel, 71 percent tied disruptive behavior, such as abusive, condescending or insulting personal conduct, to medical errors, and 27 percent tied such behavior to patient deaths.
[And] intermittent stressors — like experiencing or witnessing uncivil incidents or even replaying one in your head — elevate levels of hormones called glucocorticoids throughout the day, potentially leading to a host of health problems, including increased appetite and obesity. A study published in 2012 that tracked women for 10 years concluded that stressful jobs increased the risk of a cardiovascular event by 38 percent.
Being mean at work can have serious impacts on the lives of others. So why is it that people are uncivil? Or to put it another way, what’s so hard about being nice? I’ve got a few theories.
Being Nice Requires Empathy, Being Mean Just Requires Action
If you want to be kind to another person, you must engage the part of your brain that allows you to understand the world from another person’s perspective. Another word for this is emotional intelligence. You can only be happy for someone or sad for someone if you’re actively listening to what they are saying and being human with them.
If you want to be mean, however, you have to consciously disengage that part of your brain. You have to not let yourself see another person as an emotional, complete human being. Instead, they are either an obstacle or a resource, and you are treating them as such.
Being Nice Takes Time, Being Mean Is Fast
This one is obvious. Affirmations and compliments are not efficient. It takes a moment to say “Excuse me.” It takes a minute to wait for the other person to finish talking. It might take a day or two to wait for someone to get back from vacation or being sick to answer your question, instead of calling them when they are out of the office.
Being mean however, is quick. You get what you want when you want it.
Being Nice is Perceived as Weak, Being Mean is Perceived as Strong
I’ll quote directly from the New York Times:
Many are skeptical about the returns of civility. A quarter believe that they will be less leader-like, and nearly 40 percent are afraid that they’ll be taken advantage of if they are nice at work. Nearly half think that it is better to flex one’s muscles to garner power. They are jockeying for position in a competitive workplace and don’t want to put themselves at a disadvantage.
Being Nice is Perceived as Lying, Being Mean is Perceived as Honesty
Of all the reasons people choose not to be kind, this may be the most insidious. We often think that being nice to someone means hiding the truth. Logically, therefore, the raw facts can be brutal.
But that distinction isn’t quite right. The word “courteous” means “polite behavior that shows respect for other people.” The only way to be respectful of a person is to give them the truth.
Do things differently. Try being kind to others at work. Take a moment to type “Hi Bob” in your email before getting right to your request. Stop to listen to a story instead of cutting someone off.
Do what your parents and teachers suggested. You’ll be surprised just how valuable that advice really is.