Rise above the lack of civility that has become so common

If you think the world has become a coarser and nastier place in recent years, you’re not alone. Civility seems to be passé, but the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, actually make it even more necessary than ever.

Whether it’s people being violently dragged from planes or politicians lobbing childish insults on Twitter, it’s disheartening to see politeness falling by the wayside while coarseness and aggression seem to fill the void.

Email and self-selecting biases on social media have added to the problem by making interactions less personal and opinions more ignorant. So how do we counter these trends in our personal lives, and why does it matter for our workplaces?

Well, it matters because rudeness isn’t just bad geopolitics or hurtful on an interpersonal level. It’s also bad for business. A recent study published in McKinsey Quarterly revealed that rudeness costs businesses millions in lost production, turnover, lost customers and other problems.

Ethics, respect and graciousness are important to success. It might not have been Adam Smith’s plan or specifically in any of Ayn Rand’s books. But it is now an important role for capitalism and businesses in our market economy to play.

There is not any inherent contradiction between a good bottom line and good behavior. In fact, I believe that good values correlate to success.

Courtesy makes us all more productive
We eliminate unproductive negative feelings when we support each other and respond to needs, both personal and professional. Courtesy creates a virtuous spiral of helpfulness that enhances teamwork and drives results.

Riverside has benefited from trying to follow the Golden Rule and by hiring nice people. It helps us enjoy our work more, but it’s also a differentiator that’s palpable and valued by those we serve. We strive to be a firm that people choose to work with. Doing the right thing feels good, but it’s not driven by sheer altruism. Leaving great references in our wake has helped us make more money ever since we were founded.

I should point out that politeness and decency doesn’t mean we’re soft. We still make tough decisions — in private equity, we have to. But even those hard conversations can be done in a caring and civil manner, and it’s important that we keep up those standards in everything we do.

Simple steps
I encourage any company to take a few moments to think about what you can do to promote civil behavior in all interactions. The McKinsey study offers some excellent suggestions, particularly around holding your employees accountable for behaving civilly. Here are a few more ideas from my personal experience:

  Remember that Golden Rule.

  Before you email something harsh, consider whether you’d say the same thing in person — tone matters.

  Put down that device when you are trying to connect with someone.

  Take someone out for lunch or a cup of coffee.

  And just be nice!