Incivility Stinks. Here’s What We’re Doing About It.

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Here at Fringe PD, we frequently use humor as a teaching method. But with today’s message, I couldn’t be more serious.

Incivility in our workplaces needs to be addressed—and soon. So, I’m pleased to announce today that Fringe PD and the NALP Foundation are doing something about it. To be clear: This issue isn’t just about hurt feelings. Incivility is costing employers money, time, talent, reputations, and potentially their very existence.

This challenge is broad—affecting every industry in every region—but in the interest of starting somewhere, we are first investigating the inner workings of incivility at law firms, as a field we already know well. In offices across the globe, attorneys and administrators at all levels are wasting precious cognitive resources in dancing around egos that cause workplace strife. They’re disengaged. They’re depressed. They’re distracted and unmotivated to produce quality work or think creatively.

And why bother changing? By their observation, uncivil behavior is often associated with success, as demonstrated by the people who rise to the top. The message that many legal professionals see and internalize is this: Climbing up the ladder of your career requires stepping on the shoulders, backs, and sometimes faces of everyone below you (and beside you, for that matter).

What Counts as “Uncivil”?

Incivility can be subtle as well as overt. You have “screamers,” yes. But you also have passive-aggressive emails, constantly pushing tasks onto someone else’s plate, quietly excluding people under the guise of “need-to-know-only” meetings, differing approaches that make working together not only difficult but painful, and other small actions that add up. (Withholding valuable feedback until performance review season, for example, is unnecessarily uncivil.)

The good and bad news is that incivility is learned behavior. So, while we might wish incivility never manifested in the first place, we have the power to change things. We can do better. And here at Fringe, you can be damned sure we will do just that—helping workplaces like yours improve the way you communicate as well!

The American Bar Association has already drawn a line in the sand with its task force on lawyer well-being. Younger generations of workers are coming into the job with less tolerance than their predecessors for disrespect and arbitrary hierarchy. And today’s consumers of all ages simply expect more from the businesses to which they give their hard-earned money. As the Uber scandal shows us, jackasses aren’t good for branding. NALP and Fringe PD are assessing this pervasive challenge so that we can finally take action as an industry.

Keeping Count of Incivility

Gathering data is the first step to progress. Our benchmarking study of incivility is surveying administrators and attorneys from more than 750 global law firms to ask for their candid, anonymous experiences and observations. We’re asking hard questions to get hard data, all to push us to do better.

Research alone won’t solve this problem, of course, but we hope that our joint effort with NALP will shed much-needed light on the challenge, bringing it out of the shadows so that we can all keep our eyes on it.

If history has taught us anything, it’s that times of turmoil can bring about positive change. What we’re seeing in the news and in our communities right now isn’t the first era of ugliness that our country has gone through—and so this too shall pass… eventually.

But let’s not ignore that we have a real opportunity to make things better now, for the todays, tomorrows, and next weeks of our colleagues, for our families who put up with us, and for our own mental health.

I’ll be keeping you updated in these posts, so stay tuned. In the meantime, you can learn more and find ways to get involved here.

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