Seeking Civility Among Faculty A nursing professor could see the damaging effects of incivility and bullying in academe. So she’s delving into how faculty can treat each other better. Features
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Features  |   December 01, 2017
Seeking Civility Among Faculty
Author Notes
  • Cynthia Clark PhD, RN, ANEF, FAAN, is strategic nursing advisor for ATI Nursing Education, professor emeritus at Boise State University, the founder of Civility Matters®, and an expert in fostering civil, healthy work environments. She recently served as a co-chair for the American Nurses Association Professional Panel for Incivility, Bullying and Workplace Violence. cindy.clark@atitesting.com
    Cynthia Clark PhD, RN, ANEF, FAAN, is strategic nursing advisor for ATI Nursing Education, professor emeritus at Boise State University, the founder of Civility Matters®, and an expert in fostering civil, healthy work environments. She recently served as a co-chair for the American Nurses Association Professional Panel for Incivility, Bullying and Workplace Violence. cindy.clark@atitesting.com×
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Professional Issues & Training / Features
Features   |   December 01, 2017
Seeking Civility Among Faculty
The ASHA Leader, December 2017, Vol. 22, 54-59. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.22122017.54
The ASHA Leader, December 2017, Vol. 22, 54-59. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.22122017.54
When I politely disagreed with the more senior, tenured professor during a faculty meeting, she didn’t say anything then. But it was clear from her nonverbal behavior that she was angry. When the meeting was over and no one was around, she quietly sidled up beside me. She smugly reminded me that she was chair of the Advancement, Promotion and Tenure Committee … and said, “I know you’ve applied for tenure, and we will soon be reviewing your dossier. I guess I’m going to have to think long and hard about voting on your behalf after today’s fiasco.”
This a sad, but true story and, unfortunately, not an uncommon one in the world of academe. Issuing threats, demeaning others and making disparaging remarks toward faculty colleagues are just a few examples of uncivil behavior that may be personally and professionally damaging and, in some cases, career-ending.
In my experience, most, if not all, faculty wish to be part of a vibrant, healthy work environment—a setting where each faculty member can truly thrive. In a “psychologically healthy” environment, mutual respect and professionalism carry the day, and faculty feel valued and supported by trustworthy, ethical, visionary leaders and rewarded for their contributions to the department and institution.
According to an American Psychological Association survey, employees in psychologically healthy workplaces fare better than those in the average U.S. workplace: They have lower turnover (21 percent versus 40 percent) and higher job satisfaction (91 percent versus 70 percent), and are more motivated (94 percent versus 70 percent).
So, what happens when the atmosphere in an academic department becomes unhealthy—or maybe even toxic? How do departments plagued by incivility, bullying and other forms of abusive behavior affect individuals, the group and the institution at large? And, most important, what steps can faculty and departments take to manage and extinguish such abusive behavior?

I’ve seen incivility in the academic workplace result in increased absenteeism and tardiness, lack of meaningful participation … and putting forth minimal effort.

The toll of rudeness
Let’s examine a few sobering statistics. According to 2016 data from the Workplace Bullying Institute, 27 percent of Americans have suffered abusive conduct or incivility at work; 30 percent of bullied employees will leave and 20 percent of those who witness bullying will leave; 40 percent of bullied individuals do not report the problem; and 45 percent of bullying targets suffer stress-related health problems (see sources).
In the 2016 Civility in America Report, 75 percent of respondents believe incivility in the U.S. has risen to crisis levels; 84 percent have experienced incivility; and 34 percent have experienced incivility at work—resulting in higher turnover rates, loss of job morale, less collaboration and reduced quality of work. The report further notes that 24 percent of workers have quit their job due to incivility, and 56 percent expect civility in America to worsen over the next few years.
I’ve certainly seen incivility in the academic workplace result in increased absenteeism and tardiness, lack of meaningful participation in governance activities, working at home more than usual, flying under the radar, and putting forth minimal effort. It can become an environment where faculty lie low, work behind closed doors, rarely socialize, arrive late, leave early and essentially do the least work possible to maintain their faculty position.
Clearly, these issues need to be addressed. What we wish to foster is an academic work environment with high levels of collaboration, collegiality and teamwork; where colleagues treat one another in a professional and respectful manner; where they “step up” to serve on committees and share the work of the department; and where constructive, supportive and professional relationships prevail.
In my studies on faculty-to-faculty incivility, I have discovered that real or perceived power gradients often exist among faculty groups—one faculty member, for example, commented, “One of the senior faculty members routinely cuts others off or talks over the less-senior members she appears to be targeting. She is openly condescending and rude, speaks ill of other faculty members when they are not present and is openly antagonistic to the person she is targeting. At times, the environment is quite tense, yet no one confronts the behavior. At this juncture, I am still in a probationary period and fear that trying to address it could jeopardize the position that I have worked so hard to obtain.”
Although the stories vary in content, they share common features. For example, many faculty members believe that addressing the situation may be the best approach; yet, they fear doing so could result in personal and/or professional retaliation.
If you are ready to roll your sleeves up and participate in making a difference, here are a few suggestions to add a healthy dose of joy and collegiality to your academic workplace.

What we wish to foster is an academic work environment with high levels of collaboration, collegiality and teamwork—where colleagues treat one another in a professional and respectful manner.

Strategies for civility
First—and this may seem counterintuitive—civility starts with yourself. Following here are some strategies for fostering civility in your own academic department.
Take an accurate inventory of your own behaviors and interactions and consider the impact they may have on others. Seeking a true assessment of who we are, knowing our strengths and areas for improvement, and reflecting on our core values helps improve self-understanding.
Asking a trusted colleague for feedback about what we are doing well and what we can do better—while simultaneously listening carefully and withholding judgment or becoming defensive—is a courageous and important step forward in self-improvement.
Remember, feedback may not always be an accurate assessment. However, it is an accurate assessment of how we are perceived by others.
Institute measures to define desired behavior and discourage incivility from occurring. Many of the faculty members I’ve surveyed feel ill-equipped to deal with incivility, and seek clear policies and guidelines, ongoing faculty workshops, and mentoring to improve communication and conflict-negotiation skills. I recommend that faculty members co-create and implement ground rules, team norms or rules of engagement. An organization without norms or boundaries is a rudderless ship. Without ground rules, desired behavior is ill-defined and, thus, faculty are left to “make things up as they go along.”
Determine consequences of problem behavior. Once ground rules are determined, discuss how each team member will fulfill them and what will happen if they are violated—this could include training, coaching, redirection or a consequence, such as unsatisfactory ratings on a performance appraisal.
When faculty create norms or ground rules together, they are more likely to approve of and conform to them. Once agreed on, they become the standard for faculty interactions. To keep them dynamic, they need to be reviewed, revisited and revised on a regular basis.
Address the problem. If you experience incivility in the workplace, carefully consider the nature of your circumstances, seek support and respond—don’t ignore it. If possible, start by talking candidly with the person or people at the root of your problem. If that fails, go to your supervisor.

Remember, feedback may not always be an accurate assessment. However, it is an accurate assessment of how we are perceived by others.

Be sure, also, to attend to your physical, emotional and spiritual health. You might share your experiences with a friend, family member, mentor or counselor who can offer an objective perspective. Sharing your story with others or writing about your experience in a journal can be therapeutic and can also help provide insight.
Make time for exercise, friends, family, pets and social activities. Enjoy a massage and engage in other relaxation techniques. Be sure to get plenty of sleep, stay hydrated and eat a balanced diet. Recognize that you are uniquely strong—and don’t let others define you. Memorize and practice reciting a positive script such as, “I am a qualified professional and an experienced teacher. My students respect me, and my work is important.”
Stay civil. If you are targeted by incivility or bullying, avoid feeding the negativity by responding with more incivility. Surround yourself with positive people. Avoid contact with uncivil colleagues as much as possible and schedule shorter meetings where the uncivil colleague is present.
Hone and practice your communication skills, be assertive and try not to personalize or take offense. Remember, the offender may enjoy getting a rise out of you. If you decide to report the problem at a level beyond your supervisor, inform your supervisor and request institutional support. Be sure that they have your best interests in mind and are poised to assist you by following healthy workplace policies and guidelines.
Fostering civility in an organization has its challenges and effective leadership is key to success. Leaders at all levels are called on to model professional, respectful behaviors and to promote healthy workplaces. Rewarding civility and collegiality reinforces efforts to build positive relationships between and among all members of the campus community. Remember, the costs and consequences of incivility are vast and troubling, and the toll it takes on us can be immense. Though civility matters for many reasons, at the end of the day, it simply matters because it is the right thing to do.
Sources
Clark, C. M. (2017). Creating and sustaining civility in nursing education (2nd ed.). Indianapolis, IN: Sigma Theta Tau International Publishing.
Clark, C. M. (2017). Creating and sustaining civility in nursing education (2nd ed.). Indianapolis, IN: Sigma Theta Tau International Publishing.×
Weber Shandwick & Powell Tate. (2016). 2016 Civility in America Report. Retrieved from www.webershandwick.com/news/article/civility-in-america-2016-us-facing-a-civility-crisis
Weber Shandwick & Powell Tate. (2016). 2016 Civility in America Report. Retrieved from www.webershandwick.com/news/article/civility-in-america-2016-us-facing-a-civility-crisis×
Workplace Bullying Institute. (2014). Results of the 2014 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey. Retrieved from http://www.workplacebullying.org/wbiresearch/wbi-2014-us-survey/
Workplace Bullying Institute. (2014). Results of the 2014 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey. Retrieved from http://www.workplacebullying.org/wbiresearch/wbi-2014-us-survey/×
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December 2017
Volume 22, Issue 12