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What is Incivility?

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The general public of the United States continues to move forward slowly in terms of a decline in sexist and racist attitudes.  However, paradoxically, incidences of rudeness and uncivil behavior have both grown exponentially over the past two decades (Porath, 2015). 

 “C’mon, you’re just being a baby. Get over it.”

Despite progress, racial and gender disparities persist in organizations in the U.S - including higher education.  Many scholars assert that the term ‘civility’ refers to a set of norms that govern how people ought to behave in a given culture or community in order to maintain cooperative living (Elias, 1982; Goffman, 1967; Hartman, 1996).   Thus, civil behavior in the workplace is constituted by a code of etiquette and professional conduct, which maintains a respectful environment for all members of the organization.  Civil behavior includes treating people with dignity and respect, maintaining courtesy and politeness, and acting with regard to the feelings of others.  In short, civil behavior maintains an environment that preserves mutual respect (Carter, 1998).  Thus, uncivil behavior occurs when an individual displays a lack of respect for others and a disregard for feelings and dignity.   

 “Some women just aren’t comfortable making those kinds of decisions.”

"Maybe if you dressed less feminine, people would take you seriously."

Andersson and Peterson (1999) define workplace incivility as “low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target, in violation of workplace norms for mutual respect.  Uncivil behaviors are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others” (p. 457).  To contrast with overt aggressors or bullying, those who behave uncivilly can hide or disguise the intent of their behavior.  They may claim ignorance to the effect of their conduct, suggesting they did not realize their comments or actions would be harmful. 

 “Well, I’m sorry you took it that way, I didn’t mean for it to be rude.”

Those who behave uncivilly may also claim that their intentions were misunderstood or misconstrued by the target, stating they did not “mean to be harmful.”  In other cases, there may be implications that the target is simply hypersensitive.  This ambiguity can make formal reports difficult when policies are not in place and can add to the pain of the experience when the target may feel they cannot take appropriate steps to ameliorate the situation (Kabat-Farr & Cortina, 2012; Doshy & Wang, 2014; Nadler & Stockdale, 2012).

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