The frantic caller on the other end of the line reported that the books we’d shipped for the workshop hadn’t arrived.
“Are you sure?” Polly, our coordinator, asked. “Because our records show that we shipped 28 copies of E-Writing to Steven Mosher’s office last week and verified delivery.
“Of course I’m sure,” the client’s administrative assistant snapped. “I need to order 28 copies of E-Writing—to arrive as soon as possible. Can you get them to me by Monday?” It was already Thursday.
“Yes I can. Who should I address them to and what name goes on the invoice?”
The client gave her an address, with mailstop number. Then, “I don’t know whose name goes on the invoice. I was just told to order 28 copies of the book for a workshop next week.”
“You know—that’s the exact same address that the shipment of 28 books went to last week. Are you sure those books aren’t for the same class?”
“I don’t know anything about those books. But I’m telling you that I need you to send 28 books to me NOW!”
“Okay. I can ship them out today, and they’ll arrive tomorrow. But the overnight shipping is going to be expensive.”
“Fine. Just send them.”
Polly shipped the second set of books.
A week later, the client contact for the original shipment called with this explanation about the duplicate order: “This whole situation is just ridiculous. You talked to Wanda the second time. She doesn’t get along with Steven’s admin. They don’t even speak to each other. So Wanda just refused to walk upstairs and verify that the original shipment of books was for the same event. The manager had accidentally told both of them to place the order.
Silly, yes. Much more sizeable costs than shipping charges can be chalked up to such senseless, uncivil behavior.
But interpersonal skills have a serious business impact. You may have had a sleepless night or two yourself, replaying a conversation with a boss, pondering how to respond to a terse email from a colleague, or planning your apology to a client for an inadvertent error or misstatement.
Christine Porath and Christine Pearson polled several thousand managers and employees from a diverse range of U.S. companies about their responses to incivility in the workplace. Here’s what they discovered and reported in an article in Harvard Business Review (April 2009):
- 80% lost time worrying about a tense situation or rude incident
- 78% said they were less committed to the organization
- 66% said their performance declined
- 63% wasted time avoiding the rude person
- 48% reduced their effort
(See the complete article here.)
The general reaction among respondents: Why do your best for a bad boss or uncivil team leader or member with whom you routinely have unpleasant interactions?
In tough economic times, when layoff survivors already feel overloaded and overwhelmed, organizations would do well to refuse to tolerate the toxic employee or manager wreaking havoc on morale and the bottom-line. For that matter, all of us could put a smile on our face and pump a little kindness into the social engine.