Creating A More Civil Workplace

This morning I was reading a Parenting Magazine while sipping my coffee and suddenly an article with a featured image of a father and infant daughter dancing caught my eye. It was titled, “Keep them Healthy and Happy — move to the music!” The article quotes research by McMaster University in Canada, where they found that “14-month-olds were more likely to help someone — by picking up a dropped object and handing it back — after dancing in sync to music with that person.” The article then continues saying, “this suggests that dancing, or even singing, clapping, and bouncing in time to music, helps young children to form social bonds” (source).

Now you may be asking yourself, what in the world does this have to do with my business or even the OD field? Well if you’ve worked with me in the past, you already know that I love using child interaction case studies because children are not yet compromised of all of the junk that we inherit while growing up. In most scenarios, the explanation is simple. In this case, a social bond is formed and therefore I’m nice to you.

So now think about the work environment… how many opportunities do we see in the workplace where people can form social bonds? What do these opportunities look like? Is it having a genuine conversation with a co-worker about their two-week vacation to Mexico? Or is it saying “yes” to join that volunteer committee to plan the upcoming department holiday party? Perhaps it’s just attending and participating in the upcoming holiday party?

So what might work look like after you’ve formed these social bonds? Maybe that individual holds the elevator for you. Maybe it’s not the elevator, but the door. Or maybe, if you are clumsy like me, they lend a helping hand when you drop a large pile of paperwork in the parking lot (not so different from the 14-month-old).

It doesn’t mean we are big babies, it means the basic social interaction needed for relationships is just that, basic. It’s not rocket science.

I remember a few months back I was sitting in on a team focus group listening as participants raised more concerns than they provided suggestions. At one point, the discussion went down the path of needing team building. However, the team building result they were seeking was essentially co-worker accountability. They wanted their teams to call each other out. They wanted training on how to make their people hold each other accountable. This is the point where I decided to chime in, after it struck an internal nerve.

“How do you expect your teams to provide feedback on work-related issues when they won’t even provide feedback on if they like or dislike someone’s sweater? More importantly, how do you expect them to talk to each if they currently don’t even say hello to one another?”

The solution is not always super complicated. Sometimes I think we just don’t want to admit that it’s that simple. Workplace civility is a hot topic right now. There are lots of fancy definitions flying around, but if you dumb it down, it’s about being nice or respectful to one another.

Take the study literally and begin forming social bonds in your organization by hosting a dance break or karaoke luncheon. Or just look at the underlying message and create new opportunities for social bonds to form in your organization.

This is step one on the way to a more civil work environment.


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