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Arran Heal


Managing Director

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“I hope you get cancer and die.” Stemming rudeness with self-awareness

The customer is always right, right? Wrong. A new survey found a huge increase in violence and abuse towards shopworkers. And incivility is becoming a growing problem everywhere. It seems we all need a refresher on self-awareness. Without it we don’t have the ability to make the right choice.
closeup photo of ferret: dealing with rising rudeness with self-awareness

A customer said to staff in a convenience store: “I hope you get cancer and die”. They’d just been told an item was out of stock.

This is one of the stories the British Retail Consortium reported in its latest crime survey. It sets out a picture of a rising tide of violence and abuse towards shop workers: more than 1,300 incidents every day. 

Unfortunately, anger, impatience and frustration – and an inability to deal with difficult emotions – have become real problems for modern societies. 

People don’t necessarily see they’re being rude

Incivility is increasing

Indeed, research by Professor Christine Porath published by Harvard Business Review found that 76% of public-facing employees internationally experienced “incivility” at least once a month (and 78% said bad behaviours among customers were more common). 

And it’s not only something seen among people working in frontline jobs in shops or healthcare, but a common feature of online conversations and in workplaces more generally.

There are a combination of reasons. For example, rising levels of stress. Higher expectations as customers rather than citizens. The pressures and noise of social media and how the use of technology has changed relationships and affected social skills. A weakened sense of community. A lack of trust in or respect for authority.

An overarching problem is how people deal with those feelings. There’s a lack of self-awareness. People don’t necessarily see they’re being rude or have empathy for how their behaviour might affect others. 

For example, what’s seen as rude and disrespectful by one person can sometimes be seen as a reasonable form of expression on the other, as just being assertive. Sticking up for yourself. 

Nobody is perfectly self-aware

Breaking the cycle with self-awareness

In a workplace, rudeness or incivility can become part of a vicious circle, an insidious influence in the culture. When those kinds of behaviours become accepted, even at a minor level, as little niggles, then employee’s lives and sense of wellbeing can be seriously affected. 

More stress, increased feelings of being isolated, leading to less engagement and motivation, lower productivity and alienation. Then people stop talking to each other, there’s poor communication, less collaboration.

Self-awareness among employees is a critical skill, in dealing with colleagues and customers alike. Nobody is perfectly self-aware – and everybody is self-aware to some degree, depending on personality and circumstances. It’s a scale that ebbs and flows, and there are skills that can be encouraged and developed to make sure there’s self-awareness when it matters most.

A large part of any situation is you, and you need to have self-awareness to be aware of the situation. When you pay attention to what is happening within you, you become more aware of your own thoughts, emotions and feelings. Self-awareness provides you with choices. 

Making the right choices

Self-management – managing your thoughts, emotions and feelings to enhance your performance and optimise interpersonal communication – is the capacity to make the right choices for the situation. 

It can enhance connection with other people, minimise stress and improve feelings of control and wellbeing. 

Furthermore, having more choices about how you respond means you stay connected rather than disconnect. It ensures you respond rather than react and empathise rather than judge (as well as accept the fact that it’s just human nature that sometimes you will disconnect, react and judge).

Self-management … is the capacity to make the right choices for the situation

Tips for improving self-awareness

In other words, all external relationships begin with the relationship you have with yourself so this relationship needs to be a dynamic one; an active, in-motion relationship.

Some simple ways to think about and improve self-awareness include:

1. Think about the ‘what’ rather than the ‘why’

This is a good habit to get into as asking ‘why’ mostly leads to a negative cycle: I’m bad-tempered, I’m not good with people, I’m not good at my job. 

Therefore, what’s far more valuable is thinking about what happened, what the effect on others was and what you could have done differently. Essentially, learning from experience and moving forward

2. Encourage opinions and feedback 

Hearing from managers and colleagues around you can help build more external self-awareness. Also, it provides more opportunities to understand your reactions to feedback of different kinds and to become more resilient.

All external relationships begin with the relationship you have with yourself

3. Make use of ‘pull feedback’

Most feedback in organisations is push: 1-1’s, appraisals etc. and can often be resisted or dreaded. And 360 feedback is theoretically pull but not really. More valuable is pull feedback: feedback that the receiver seeks out and asks for.

4. Test your self-awareness

Finally, it’s important to take regular moments to test your ability to be honest and to deal with negatives in a constructive, healthy way. You can do this by asking questions of yourself about what’s happening at work, in your relationships with people and what this tells you about what’s working and what might need to change.

Did you enjoy this article? Check out: The de-escalation game: Empowering employees to resolve conflict

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Arran Heal

Managing Director

Read more from Arran Heal