It’s never entirely the situation and it’s never entirely the person. It is the mix that determines whether things go well or go badly. What is truly interesting is what lies between the person and the situation.
The indicator for the graph below is co-worker incivility—the frequency of encountering rude or thoughtless behavior from colleagues. It shows a person quality—Attachment Anxiety—and a workgroup quality—Psychological Safety.
Attachment Anxiety is the extent to which people approach the social work lacking confidence. People scoring high on this quality are exceptionally concerned with the possibility of rejection or humiliation.
Psychological Safety is the quality of a workgroup. Groups that score high on Psychological Safety encourage open, honest expression of views; those low on this quality are intolerant of dissent or diversity of opinion.
The graph makes the point that a group low in psychological safety (the blue line) is a less civil work place than one high in psychological safety (the orange line). Problems occur for people with a high level of attachment anxiety working in a psychologically unsafe workgroup. The dot on the upper right part of the graph indicates incivility that is roughly double the rate for that of people low on anxiety in psychologically unsafe workgroups.
Dealing with the pattern of high anxiety/ unsafe environment can happen in two ways:
- Team building efforts towards increasing psychological safety could reduce uncivil encounters
- Greater insight into attachment anxiety could help people manage their participation in their workgroups
Workplace civility and respect can be improved, but there is no simple solution. A mix of approaches focusing on both the individuals and their workgroup dynamics can make a real difference.
Michael Leiter, Ph.D.