Could you be accused of workplace incivility?

Many people nowadays feel frustrated that good old common courtesy isn’t so common anymore. Yet when identifying those guilty of workplace incivility – defined as a form of organizational deviance characterized by low-intensity behaviors that violate respectful workplace norms – we’re often quick to point the finger at others rather than at ourselves. Truth is, however, that whether we’re aware of it or not, we may be doing things that our colleagues consider rude.

Marie G. McIntyre, Ph.D. (also known as Your Office Coach) offers individuals the following quick quiz as food-for-thought. Consider an affirmative answer to a statement as a wake-up call that others may be viewing your behavior as rude.

  • I am very direct and tell people exactly what I think.
  • If I am annoyed or frustrated, it shows on my face.
  • I sometimes text or check my phone during a conversation.
  • I occasionally have trouble controlling my temper.
  • I sometimes say negative things about coworkers behind their backs.
  • I like to know a lot about my coworkers’ personal lives.
  • I frequently fail to return phone calls or respond to email questions.
  • During others’ presentations, I am often engaged with electronic devices.
  • If I am upset or annoyed, I may stop speaking or become short and snippy.
  • I have been known to criticize people in front of others.
  • I am part of a group that intentionally excludes some coworkers.
  • I frequently talk with coworkers about my personal problems.
  • I make comments or play jokes that some people could find offensive.
  • I prefer to address conflicts through email instead of talking.

Results here may leave you nodding your head and thinking something along the lines of “Yeah, I guess I can see where a coworker might see that as rude even though it wasn’t my intention.” However, you also might be shaking your head side-to-side wondering “Why would someone have a problem with that?”

Plainly put, each person sees the world differently. Since a variety of factors influence whether someone perceives an action as rude or not, predicting an individual response often proves difficult. However, office misunderstandings over intent frequently can be attributed to one of these reasons:

Gender differences

Mars and Venus differences sometimes show up in the workplace. For instance, jokes and putdowns tend to be more a part of “guy culture.” An insult or comment meant to generate a laugh may end up not sitting well with a female colleague. On the flip side, women often feel greater comfort sharing details of their lives and asking personal questions. A male co-worker might label this behavior as inappropriate or intrusive.


Generational differences lead people to view actions through their own lens. Issues surrounding where, when, and how to use electronics is an especially touchy area. What younger workers who grew up immersed in technology might see as no big deal, such as checking their phone during a meeting or hopping on the Internet during a conversation to get more info on the topic at hand, older people may find rude.

Communication patterns

Ways of communicating you grew up with or became accustomed to over the years may not jive with someone else’s experience. Take the issue of listening. One person may have had a “talk on top of” family in which discussions featured lively participation with back and forth between people interspersing thoughts at will. Such “interruptions” might appall someone used to a single person holding the floor before another takes a turn.

Work-style differences

As assessment tests make clear, people possess a variety of natural tendencies. A person inclined in one direction may have trouble understanding somebody with an opposite style. For example, taskmasters differ significantly from socializers. The first focuses on the work to be done, while the other focuses on the people doing it. Socializers may mistakenly view taskmasters as not caring about others, while taskmasters may judge socializers as unconcerned about the work.

Taking action on workplace incivility

Most of us aren’t out to upset colleagues and don’t want others to think of us as rude. Changing perception often starts with an honest look in the mirror. Go back over the quiz to see which of your actions might be problematic, and work on being sensitive to how others view such behaviors. “Getting out of your box” to see yourself as others do is a major step in establishing the reputation, relationships, and results that lead to career success.