Readers, I have a problem. I’ve spent the last ten years doing my best to be counted among the prestigious ranks of professionals, only to arrive here and to realize that many of us are not… well…professional.
For illustration, I think back to a humorous “op-doc” video (a video op-ed) in the New York Times entitled Verbatim: What is a Photocopier? Perhaps you’re familiar with it. In any case, the video shows two lawyers arguing over a case involving photocopies of public documents. The video is essentially a reenactment of an actual defense expert deposition with the prosecution questioning the expert’s knowledge of a “photocopy machine.” Over the course of the video, the prosecutor gets increasingly frustrated at the expert’s answers. By the end of the video, the frustrated prosecutor is throwing a tantrum, yelling, and violently gesturing at the expert, who had been only trying to clarify the prosecutor’s question.
Many people likely laughed at the absurdity of the video, and rightly so; the expert was asking a simple clarifying question in a calm and respectful tone, and yet the prosecutor was raising his voice, posturing in an intimidating manner, and accusing the expert of “playing games.” When I first saw the video, I thought I too was laughing at the uncommonly immature antics of the prosecutor. Later, I realized that I wasn’t laughing at the actions of the prosecutor. On the contrary, I was laughing because, while I don’t know that specific prosecutor or his specific circumstances, I do know someone who reminded me of him.
At my previous job I had a co-worker, let’s call him Mark. Mark was arguably one of the most knowledgeable, competent, hardworking individuals at the facility. He was also sarcastic, mean and rude, and everyone hated it. He was the running joke, a walking punchline. Whenever something inconvenient happened, someone would mimic Mark’s annoyed tone, and bemoan the cruel world that was so unfair. Eventually, Mark applied for a higher position, and he was passed over, numerous times, for people who had less seniority, despite his qualifications.
I don’t know for a fact why Mark was passed over, but if you ask me, it was because his bosses thought the same thing about Mark that the rest of us did, that his unprofessionalism would misrepresent the company if he was promoted. I think that if Mark had been just a little more pleasant to be around, and treated others with a bit more respect, he would have had that position today. An uncivil worker is an unliked worker, and an unliked worker is not often promoted.
Solutions for the Uncivil Colleague
Now I’m not advocating that we should all smile at each other and hold hands (though you can if you want, I won’t judge). But even a modicum of tact can go a long way in any business. If we try treating everyone with the same level of respect that we would want from them, our job will be easier and our day more enjoyable. In my experience, people are nicer when you are nice too. Unfortunately, we all have uncivil colleagues; the ones who we hope we won’t get paired with on that team project. Co-workers, bosses, clients, even competitors all know who that uncivil attorney is, and are all less likely to be accommodating to that person when they ask for something.
Of course, it is possible that the uncivil among us do not recognize that their harsh personalities are not only unprofessional but detrimental to the business and to themselves. I don’t know how the real world case from Verbatim’s scenario turned out. But what I do know is that the ‘angry prosecutor’ did not seem to be in control of that situation. If an attorney cannot successfully argue his point without raising his voice and berating the other side, then he has failed his client and his organization.
Therefore while I appreciate the New York Time’s video, it is not enough. Laughing at an incidence of rudeness on YouTube will not make much of a difference on the culture of incivility in our profession. A more effective solution is to call out those less tactful members of our profession for what they are: unhelpful, counterproductive and just plain rude.
So here’s my request: If you know someone that behaves this way, tell them (respectfully) that you’d appreciate a little more civility. Maybe they won’t respond to your request, but at least you can try. Who knows, maybe they’ll respect your candor, and your workplace will be better off for it. And if someone asks you to be a little less abrasive, take the time to think about how you address those around you, it could be the difference between getting a promotion and not getting one.
At the end of the day, we sometimes spend more time at work than we do with our own families; shouldn’t we all work to make work a bit more pleasant?
If you disagree with my requests, or have your own example of where tact is important, why not leave a comment below?