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  • Tamar Balkin

What Is Your Role In Managing Incivility And Inappropriate Criticism?

“ I won't stand and observe it

From this point on

We won't allow

This, brother

If we don't end this now

There'll be others”

I Saw It by the Barenaked Ladies (click here for the music)


Click here for the full article


Upon reading the paper yesterday and thinking about all my clients and colleagues in who work tirelessly in Scientific research, I was moved to write a new blog. It is quite disheartening that in an era where tolerance is encouraged there is still those who will shout, belittle, embarrass, threaten or harass as a means of influence. Regular readers would know that incivility is not only unacceptable but ineffective in managing conflict or influence others.

Inappropriate behaviour:

Regular readers would be aware that inappropriate interpersonal behaviour takes many forms and levels of intensity:

  • Rudeness, (click here for my blog)

  • Ostracism and (click here for my blog)

  • Incivility (click here for my blog)

What is conflict and how does it impact trust?

According to researchers there are three types of conflict in organisations: task conflict, relationship conflict, and value conflict. Task conflict, often involves concrete issues related to employees’ work assignments and can include disputes about how to divide up resources, differences of opinion on procedures and policies, managing expectations at work, and judgments and interpretation of facts. Relationship conflict, arises from differences in personality, style, matters of taste, and even conflict styles. In organisations, people who would not ordinarily meet in real life are often thrown together and must try to get along. It’s no surprise, then, that relationship conflict can be common in organisations. Values conflict, can arise from fundamental differences in identities and values, which can include differences in politics, religion, ethics, norms, and other deeply held beliefs. Disputes involving values tend to heighten defensiveness, distrust, and alienation.


“Trust describes the extent to which team members allow themselves to be vulnerable to each other’s actions. Conflict refers to disagreements and frictions among the team members generated by perceived incompatibilities or divergence in perceptions, expectations, and opinions”

Curseu, P. L., & Schruijer,


Trust is a key factor in preventing task conflict to evolve into relationship conflict. However, when there is a lack of trust in teams may lead team members to feel attacked while exchanging ideas. In groups experiencing high levels of relationship conflict, it is very likely that members do not share mutual understanding and acceptance; therefore, the level of trust is low.


‘It is not always necessary or possible to resolve conflict’

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler


Conditions for healthy conversations:

  • Trust

  • Respect

  • Emotional regulation

  • Emotional intelligence

  • Self awareness

  • Empathy

  • Curiosity

  • Manners and kindness

  • Objectivity

  • Depersonalisation

  • Unconditional positive regard

  • Openness


“No matter what they take from me. They can't take away my dignity.”

Greatest Love Of All Whitney Houston (click here for the music)


What is the role of the leader?

The leader has a responsibility to create a psychologically safe and healthy workplace that is free from incivility and aggression. Notice low levels of incivility and address them before they escalate and cause more harm. Instead of shying away from difficult conversations please seek support and guidance from experts. When identifying and responding to inappropriate behaviours emotional intelligence and emotional regulation are essential to ensure that the leaders actions are consistent with the messages they are conveying. (click here for my blog on balancing empathy and assertiveness and here for my blog on empathy).

What is everyone's responsibility?

On practical level it is helpful to do the following:

  • Discourage stereotypes whenever they emerge

  • Create a climate of psychological safety

  • Be polite and composed

  • Politely and respectfully call out incivility in any context

  • Teach your staff how to respond to incivility in a calm safe manner to clients, colleagues, and stakeholders

  • Reminding people that tolerance does not mean you only tolerate your own ideas

  • Educating others that diversity is not only about the colour of your skin, gender, ethnicity, disability etc but also ideas.

We all need to be aware of not shirking our responsibilities when we notice inappropriate behaviour, there is always something you can do. Irrespective of how strong or brave we are, we should never assume that someone else will take action (click here for my blog on the Bystander effect).

Final thoughts:

The mere experience of discord, tension, and divergence of interests, perceptions, values, and beliefs is emotional and likely to elicit anger, disgust and fear, to threaten one’s self-esteem, and to require additional cognitive resources to cope with the situation. The process of taking action to address inappropriate behaviour can be harmful to the mental health of all who are involved. Leaders therefore have a responsibility to also keep an eye out for a change in behaviour in yourself and others, and ensure appropriate support is accessed (click here for my blog on having mental health conversations at work). A workplace lawyer and an HR expert, will help you navigate if the inappropriate behaviour has crossed the line and requires a stronger approach. A GP and clinical psychologist can help when there have been negative impacts on mental health.


References: Work And Life With Stew Friedman Ep 165. Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler: Free Yourself From Conflict Curseu, P. L., & Schruijer, S. G. L. (2010). Does conflict shatter trust or does trust obliterate conflict? Revisiting the relationships between team diversity, conflict, and trust. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research and Practice, 14(1), 66-79. Shonk, K. (2019). 3 Types of Conflict and How to Address Them. [online] PON - Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. Available at: Dijkstra, M.T.M., van Dierendonck, D., Evers, A. and De Dreu, C.K.W. (2005). Conflict and well‐being at work: the moderating role of personality. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 20(2), pp.87–104. ‌Laursen, B. and Hafen, C.A. (2009). Future Directions in the Study of Close Relationships: Conflict Is Bad (Except When It’s Not). Social Development, 19(4), pp.858–872.

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