Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Discourtesy and Contention At Work: Describe it Correctly

The most pervasively negative
workplace behavior:
Discourtesy and Contention

It is trendy to call obnoxious people bullies, to to describe unpleasant supervisors as toxic. However, there are less dramatic ways to discuss behavior that should be corrected–then, correct it. 

The behavior I consider the most problematic in workplaces is behavior that is:
Impolite, unmannerly and rude
Pestering, stress producing and disruptive 
Devious, unfriendly and undermining
Obnoxious, offensive and irritating 
Argumentative, uncooperative and self-serving
Tormenting, sniping or purposefully hurtful

Any of those behaviors could be described as discourteous.  If they are unrelenting, frequent, habitual, regular or pervasive, they more likely fit the description of being contentious–part of a long-term conflict or frequent behavior that a reasonable person would consider unpleasant, disrespectful or uncivil to others. 

Those two terms–discourtesy and contention–are not so dramatic sounding as some of the other terms that might be used, but I think they are more apt because they:
• Are less emotion-laden and offensive than bully, toxic or evil
• Describe behavior instead of labeling a person. 
• More clearly describes the reality of workplace communication problems.
• Do not automatically place people in the roles of aggressors and victims. 
• Provide supervisors and coworkers with acceptable terms for documenting complaints.  

However, do not doubt that discourtesy and contention can take a terrible toll on employees and the workplace.

Be on the look-out for these examples of discourteous and contentious behavior: 
*Facial expressions and gestures that are rude, mocking or demeaning.
*Purposely not smiling or responding to attempts to be appropriately friendly. Stone face.
*Using email to escalate a conflict or make someone look badly by forwarding or copying messages unnecessarily.
*Mocking, smirking, eye-rolling, smothered laughter or looking at others when someone else talks.
*Practical jokes that disrupt the work of others or create stress for them.
*Refusing to assist or pretending to not notice that assistance is needed.
*Using a tone of voice that is snippy, irritated sounding, hostile, contemptuous or sarcastic.
*Confronting people about a conflict in an excessively aggressive manner.
*Accusations, excessive emotionalism.
*Finding fault; excessively correcting others; pointing out flaws in an unhelpful way.
*Making work more difficult than it needs to be or purposely delaying work.
*Disingenuous remarks designed to create problems for others.
*Responding to requests with heavy sighs, resentful actions, anger or excessive questioning.
*Stomping, slamming doors, drawers and phones, making unnecessary noise and clamor.
*Purposely or repeatedly doing things that are unpleasant, foul, obnoxious, distracting and disruptive.

Why supervisors and managers should take immediate and strong action about discourtesy and hostility:

  • It can demoralize and demotivate the target and those who witness it and creates stress and uneasiness for everyone.
  • It takes the focus away from work and puts it on the unpleasantness.
  • It encourages people to take sides, or to encourage discourtesy byothers as a way to stir up problems.
  • It prevents or reduces effective communication.
  • It can be the source of actions and reactions that result in lawsuits, complaints andviolence.
  • If someone is discourteousto coworkers or you, they will almost certainly be discourteous to others when you are not around.
  • It puts the focus of supervisors onquarrels and upsetsinstead of key work issues.
  • When others are aware of it–and they will be–it presents the supervisor or manageras being either unwilling or unable to intervene.
  • Discourtesy is like a weed–it spreads and chokes out everything good you try to cultivate in your workplace.

A mental survey: Look and listen in your workplace this week:

1. Which employees interact the most courteously with other employees in the office and within the organization?

2. Who are some who are not particularly courteous, even though they are not obviously rude?

3. Who says or does things that, if you weren’t so used to them, you’d immediately think of them as discourteous? What are the things they say or do? Do they limit it to only a few or are they that way to everyone? Are there some mutually discourteous relationships?

4. Who says or does things that, had those habits been known, the person would likely not have been hired?

5. Would life at work be better if relationships that are now marked by discourtesy or hostility were civil, cooperative and pleasant?

Pay attention to courtesy and discourtesy this week–and notice how you act as well! Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “there is always enough time to be courteous.” Take the time.

April 16th, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | no comments

No Comments »

No comments yet.

Leave a comment