Today, we have a very special guest on the RecruitingDaily Podcast – Dr. Robin Rosenberg of Live In Their World, Inc. This episode is particularly human and insightful, as we talk about and defining civility in the workplace in terms of DEIB and beyond. We also discus solutions; how to train your team to be, well, more civil.
Dr. Rosenberg is not only CEO & Founder of Live In Their World, she is a board certified clinical psychologist, certified in coaching and in clinical hypnosis. Robin helps employees and leadership develop more respectful ways to interact with each other. This is research-backed training, using technology such as VR to create deeper understanding among colleagues. i.e., she specializes in helping people learn empathy for one another and want to become more respectful and in-tune with one another.
We dissect civility itself, how incivility impacts the workplace anywhere from the individual to the organization as a whole, and how to recognize curiosity and improvement, and more.
Listen in. Give us your thoughts.
Check out Live In Their World (it’s an incredible organization).
This one is important.
Listening time: 32 minutes
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Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup. And you are listening to the recruiting daily podcast. Today we have Robin Rosenberg on, and we’re going to be talking about a wonderful topic: Civility in the Workplace. What’s that? Robin and I have gone back and forth on email. And this is just going to be a fun topic.
So without any further ado, Robin, would you do us a favor and introduce yourself?
Absolutely. I’m a clinical psychologist, and for many years had a psychotherapy practice and executive coaching practices. And I write psychology textbooks for undergraduate courses in psychology, and then do research on stuff.
And most recently, I started a company called Live In Their World that uses, in part, virtual reality to address issues of bias and incivility in the workplace and upskill employees for respectful engagement.
That’s wonderful. I did a VR event last year, it was an HR event, but it was a VR, that and alt space, and it was fantastic. I mean, it was such a great event and just a different conference event, a different type of conference event. You know, there were still keynotes and sessions and breakouts and, you know, all that type stuff. But it was just, it was, I don’t know, free in a lot of ways. I really enjoyed it.
So let’s talk a little bit about civility and the name again. The name of your company is Live In Their World.com.
Yes. And I want to talk a little bit more about that, as well. But civility in the way that you think about it and the way that you’ve studied it. I’m assuming that we all look at civility in different ways or define it in different ways, but I don’t want to start with the wrong assumption.
How do you explain civility to folks?
So civility is conventionally thought of as kind of low-level rudeness. Right, it— I’m sorry, that’s incivility.
That’s all right.
Sorry, that got a little confusing because I’m often talking about incivility.
So civility is courtesy, politeness, and fundamentally, it’s about respect.
And there’s an added psychological component. And of course, because I’m a psychologist, I’m going to add that component, which is thinking about how your actions will land on other people. So impacts, if you will, which requires what’s called a theory of mind, you know, the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes who’s different than you are.
We used to, many of us, you know, we used to— Politeness was, was a good thing.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Extra Credit. Yeah.
Extra credit. Right. So, there’s— We’ve lost civility in the workplace. We’ve also lost, really, fundamentally respecting other people anywhere, but in the workplace in particular, right? And incivility, not having civility, has some really significant costs to employees and to organizations.
So in surveys, up to 80% of employees have reported losing time because of incivility and disrespect. So they lose time by worrying about something that happened, something that might happen, thinking how to deal with the situation after it’s happened. Trying to avoid the offender, you know, and that which leads into, “Oh, was I supposed to get back to you this urgently? I’m sorry, I didn’t see your email.” Right? So you can do that. And really figuring out, trying to help minimize, you know, incidents with the offender.
Decreased productivity, because all of that lost time is affecting productivity, there are potential legal issues for a hostile work environment or discrimination lawsuit, because incivility, when incivility is based on bias; we’re only uncivil to some people. That really is then discrimination. And managed—
If the company allows it, then they’re complicit.
Yes, exactly. Exactly. The company. Yes, absolutely.
And managers spend up to seven weeks a year just resolving employee conflicts due to incivility and disrespect. I’m including in there, by the way, issues that are discrimination, because fundamentally, discrimination is disrespect. So, in effect, commitment to the organization and engagement and attrition, because people will leave because of how they’re treated.
Well, 100%. Or they’ll never apply. So it’s the front end and back end.
When we think of civility, are we thinking about the words that we use? The actions that we take? Or is it a combination of both those things?
It’s a combination of both those things. And I would go a step further, which is in our society, what we know is super helpful for both individual employees and organizations, is having a growth mindset. And that’s been part of real frame of openness and curiosity. And also, the belief that you can change and learn and grow if you choose to. So the old adage of well, this is just how I am. That’s called a fixed mindset, right?
Yeah, and I’m going to go ahead and blame most white males for that. Just go ahead and go there fast. But again, I think some of this is, when we deal with respect, we might not even know we’re being disrespectful. I mean, this goes across— This is for everybody. It’s asking people.
Like for me, I’ve come to this kind of a realization the last couple of years, that it’s about consent. It’s about asking people, you know, okay, I just said x, you know, did you take it that way? Or, you know, did I say it the wrong way? And getting permission and getting consent and making sure that, you know, because words have power.
And then again, actions, similarly have power. But again, some of this is— You might be dealing with individuals in your company that just don’t know. They’re clueless. Okay, that’s true.
Or, worse, they have folks that know exactly what they’re doing.
Right. And they require different types of training if you will.
So what you described, William, was exactly a growth mindset. Because when you ask people questions, you talk about it in terms of consent. I’m going to talk about it in terms of openness and curiosity.
Right is, “Hey, you know, this is what I think I’m doing. But what was it like for you on the other end?”
Really being curious. And that act of being curious conveys respect, right? That you actually do want to know how it landed? And if it landed poorly, implicit in the way that you said it is, that you would then change behavior accordingly.
Yeah. 100%. If you know—I mean, again, for a lot of folks—if they knew that, and they had that curiosity, and they knew that, “Okay, yeah, so that didn’t go well. Got it. Okay, so the next time we talk about this, or set a deadline, etc.” Then I know that there’s a better way to deliver that.
Or that there’s a better way to deliver news, etc.
And none of us will get it right all the time. Right?
Oh, that’s a part of it, though. I mean, if you ever feel like you’ve gotten 100% of it, you’re like, well, you’re not pushing, or you’re not trying, or you’re not working with enough different people. So I mean, I guess— Again, I’m not a psychologist, but I would assume that if you’re not making mistakes, that’s actually an indicator.
Right. That’s exactly. Well said. Yeah.
So the common thing when you’re first working with organizations, and you’re talking to them about civility, because I love how you brought them kind of to this place, at the end of the day, it’s respect. Everyone wants to be respected.
You take a job, you want to be successful, and you want to thrive. You want to be respected for the value that you bring, and you want to be your whole self and all of those things. But it’s, you know, oftentimes, we skip past that. And we, you know, we’re focused on the outcomes of work or KPIs or ROI or some of these other things, and we forget that respect is kind of the goal.
And all these other things will happen, of course, but you need to be respectful and respected. You want to be respected.
Absolutely. Both sides.
Yeah, both sides. How do you explain— Tell me, when you first start working with a company, how do you bring them into that mindset?
Great question. So when we’re talking to leaders, or sort of the contact people, they actually usually get it if they’re calling us. I think that the bottom line is all of the data that’s available. Now, what happens with this respect? I mean, you know, some people might frame this as DEI issues.
Right. And fundamentally, you know, inclusion is about respect. You know, again, we sort of come down to that. And equity is about fairness, right? Which is also a different form of respect. And, you know, so even in, in recruiting and hiring, you know, to your sweet spot, the whole talent acquisition pipeline, the idea is how to inject respect, unearned respect, which is just because, great, but because they’re people, right?
You know, nowadays because of branding issues and social media and cancel culture, I think people are more aware of the consequences of disrespecting people, or at least not paying attention to whether you’re disrespecting people.
Right? Because we can all inadvertently be disrespectful, but it’s being attentive to when we are and learning from it.
So somebody’s— No, no, no. Finish your thought.
Oh, so I think for companies, our experience has been that our, the way that we approach it, is pretty unique. I think that’s what I’ve been told anyway. And it’s about, on the one sense, the commonality. Everyone wants to be treated fairly and to work in an organization that’s fair.
You know, we live in a country where it says it’s a meritocracy. We know that it’s not true.
But we would like to believe that where we work is a meritocracy. And part of how organizations can live up to it as high as they can, to that ideal, is really being transparent about the ways that they’re trying to convey respect.
So for instance, if we know if the company is going to be doing some kind of equity audit for compensation, let’s say, and they have to adjust because they haven’t been. They should be absolutely transparent about it because the transparency is what can— That’s how employees know the organization is trying to be fair, right?
So you can be fair, you can make those compensation adjustments. But if you’re only telling the people you adjusted, then no one else knows and the theory’s process.
That doesn’t seem fair, right? But— So you’re not getting the benefit of the efforts towards fairness.
Which are quietly happening. But again, they shouldn’t be quietly, they should be happening, and there should be an air of transparency.
You brought up such a wonderful point, both around transparency and respect, that I want to, you know— And again, you deal with a lot of different companies, but when people put their values together, it seems, if not transparency, it seems like respect should be kind of the basic value, corporate value.
I know. I knew when I said it, I’m like, “Well, yes, it should. But, you know, common sense should also be common.”
All right. Okay. Fair enough.
Honestly, you know, I think, particularly in the pandemic, I mean, there’s pre-pandemic there, and then there’s pandemic, and now there’s going to be post-demic, post-pandemic. And hybrid is going to be a whole other set of issues where inadvertent—
Inequity and disrespect and bias will play out.
We don’t even know what we don’t know yet. Because, like, I was talking to somebody the other day about succession planning, and it’s like, are you going to give credence or preference to people that are in the office? You know, for internal mobility? And the CHRO, you know, that I was talking to, she’s like, I have no idea. If we’re being honest about it.
Totally. And I respect that. But I would say that some of these issues actually are known. We know we can know in advance quite well, many of the issues that are going to happen because of hybrid, work hybrid, having a hybrid workforce. And so it is an opportunity for employers and leaders and team leaders and managers to really think deeply about how they want to address the problems.
Having a hybrid workforce. So some of it is a mystery, but some of it is not a mystery.
Right. Of course. Well, I mean, like telework. And having a flexible schedule is a form of respect, and which has been around, in some companies, has been around for a long time. And in some companies, you are forced to go to an office, which, you know, on some level, if you can get your job done in a different way or at home, is a bit disrespectful.
So like, I can see. I’m really interested. Because I think every company is going to kind of have a nuanced version of hybrid that I think will be really interesting.
But I did have a question come up, because I came up, quite like a lot of people my age, you know, learning from boomers and learning from kind of a command-and-control kind of environment. And also, you know, with a lot of leaders that would just drop them off at the deep end of the pool, and just, you know, they make it. If they make it, great; if they don’t, well, that’s great as well. And I assume that we’re undoing a lot, I would hope, that we’re undoing a lot of that leadership style or that leadership kind of mentality.
Do you still, I mean— Is that— Do you run into that?
I don’t run into that so much, because if you’re in a command-and-control organization, civility and respect and inclusion are probably not among the highest priorities.
In terms of, you know, HR and DEI funding.
You know, the—
But they’re the ones that need it the most.
The military is an example of an organization that’s command and control. And has, for race and ethnicity, done an amazing job with—
Respect and equity. Right? Compared to the rest of society.
That’s good point.
For women, not so much.
Not so much. No.
That’s much more complicated in a certain respect. Yes, so even their command, it’s really— There’s the command, but not the control, I would say, from what I’ve read. I don’t know, personally.
And so, you know, there, there are advantages to command and control if it’s benign leadership. So, and in times of uncertainty, you know, like when we first went into lockdown, right, it’s very helpful to have someone who is— It’s okay not to know.
Be transparent about that. But nonetheless, that person is clearly leaning. Right?
Right. Yeah, I can see that. Someone that’s willing to basically say we need to— This is north star; we need to go in this direction. Even though there’s a ton of ambiguity below the surface, there’s still somebody that can do that. And that’s, to some degree, that’s what we want from leaders.
Right. Now, there are different styles of leadership, and so I either, you know, that’s not even command and control. It’s really just leading with a vision and taking responsibility and giving people very clear communication and guidance and keeping them in the loop. And you know that that’s super helpful, especially with high uncertainty.
So, but I think what we know, because the statistic about incivility is not focusing on respect, has very significant costs for the organization. Not least of which is branding. In hiring and bending to consumers and business partners, there is the fact that it is also the right thing to do.
And that’s really important, too. I don’t, you know— There’s the [inaudible] and then the moral argument.
In a social world, in a in a more transparent world, it’s become even more important for those customers of those companies, as well. So even if you don’t think it’s the right thing to do for your employees, which is crazy, it would be the right thing to do for your customers.
Right? So how do, when you’re working with companies, and I know you get this probably asked a jillion times, but how do they know that they’re doing a good job when it comes to civility?
Excellent question. I think that it’s often measured indirectly. When companies measure it, I think it’s really not measured specifically. I don’t think respect, you know, feeling respected, being respectful—
Is measured specifically. It’s often indirect with things like the lot, that are all clustered under DEI, and more generally, engagement, belonging, things, you know. Or even more indirectly, retention or attrition, that kind of thing.
We actually do measure it. So we measure explicitly civility—
As part of our program. And we measured over time so we can see changes over time as employees go through our program. Because it’s important not just to feel like the program is doing anything, but to actually have it be doing something.
Right. No, I could see that. I mean, on some level, again, it’s because it comes down to, again, your civility. You can bring that to respect. And you can ask people in different periods. It’s kind of like an NPS question around, you know, are you referenceable? Would you refer this person to somebody else? That’s— Respect can be brought to that level.
When you interact with firms, I would assume sometimes they don’t even know if they have this problem. You know, like civility in particular. But then as you’ve related to curiosity and respect, and some of the other things, how do you start them down that journey to find out? Maybe at an audit? Or find out, like, where they are on their journey to be a more civil workplace?
Right. So what we do is we just measure that right up front. That’s the first thing, and that’s the baseline data. So, I mean, we don’t have to guess. We just assess.
And is that— Do you have benchmarks against other industries? Or company sizes? Or is there, I mean, I know you’re looking at—
Not yet because other, you know, other people aren’t really doing it. So it’s a little hard to figure it out. And the other issue is that some parts of the organization can be pretty decent, right? And all it takes is one toxic boss or even just a toxic employee, you know, for that unit, or that team, or that group to really be in bad shape.
And toxicity is, in one of the ways we’re thinking about that, just people that aren’t respectful, that don’t even care about being respectful.
Correct. Right. And there are many ways that shows up.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Taking credit for other people’s work. That’s a classic. I mean, it’s, you know, that’s unbelievably disrespectful, right?
Yeah. Well, I mean, like, there are other— I mean, I was about to say that’s probably the most disrespectful, and I stopped myself from saying that because there are more disrespectful things that one can do.
But I’ll tell you where toxicity really hurts an organization is a hiring manager. Someone in a position of hiring, that’s toxic. Bad, bad managers right there. That is a double whammy because you get it both on the employee side, but you also get it on who they choose to hire and not hire.
Right. Right. And so then that’s a really interesting question, which is when you have a toxic hiring manager, why are they still there? Why are they allowed? I mean, why isn’t it either up or out? Right? Either upskill and get with the program or your fired? You mean—
Oh, I used to play with this ethical dilemma all the time when it relates to sales. So sales is one of the harder spots. You have a sales guy. In fact, I’ve talked to people about this. You know, you have a sales guy who is a walking sexual harassment claim waiting to happen. However, he kills quota. You give him a 4-million-dollar quota, he comes in with six. Give him an 8-million-dollar quota, he comes in with 12. He’s just, whatever number you put in front of him, he kills it.
He’s also toxic, not respectful, and a sexual harassment claim waiting to happen. And when you talk to certain leaders, they’re willing to deal with the behavior or the potential behavior of that person to get, especially when it comes to revenue, to get the outputs.
But I think that’s lessening because of transparency.
I was really disgusted by most of it when I would throw that ethical dilemma in front of folks, and most leaders would figure out ways to still deal with Jimmy or Ted or whatever. But now, they’re not willing to do, they’re not willing to risk it as much now because of the public pressure, which is great.
Again, for “Me Too” “Love is Love,” “Black Lives Matter.” It’s just this idea of that you need to be a good corporate citizen. You know, you still need to reach the goals. Yes. Goals are important. Yes. But how you reach them is also important, which I’ve seen great growth in with the leaders that I deal with.
Right. That’s exactly right. And I think what happened is the cost, the potential cost or extra cost, became too high. That’s the trick of what it is. If you started out saying it’s the trade off, and, you know, a balancing act, and the seesaw started tipping the other way.
Thank God. We’re only 100 years late. But still, I’m glad we’re here, now. I mean, you know, this could have not happened in our lifetime. So I’m glad that there’s enough pressure on people now, again, as it relates to, you brought it back to diversity, inclusion, belonging, equity and equality a couple times. And thankfully now there’s budget.
I mean, we’ve talked about diversity pretty much all my life. We’ve talked about diversity. We’ve, just— Once you dig into, especially on the HR side, there wasn’t the money; there wasn’t any budget. So it’s like, you talk about it, everybody talks about it, but there wasn’t anything programmatically or budget that was set aside to actually do something about it. And there wasn’t the societal pressure. And now there is.
Right. I think the dilemma now, sort of where things are now, is that it can’t be a throw money at the problem solution. Because the research on DEI trainings shows that most of the ones that have been studied—and many haven’t because they’re just kind of one-off things—it’s not particularly effective.
And it’s not surprising, because really what we’re talking about from my frame, you know, how I think about DEI, is really about developing new habits of behavior that are respectful and inclusive. And so a one-and-done training isn’t going to do that.
No. And you got to want it. You got to want to as an ally.
You got to want to change, you know. You got to want to be curious, you brought that. You got to want to be respectful. You got to want to ask those. You got to also, you know, when you make mistakes, you got to want to say, yeah, that was a mistake. My bad.
You didn’t take our program, did you? Because you just described the critical ingredients. You have to want for habit change, right? You have to be motivated for habit change. You have to be told, okay, so what’s the new habit going to be, you know, to help me? And then help me remember to do it over time and get better at it over time. And so that’s kind of how we describe the program.
Okay. What’s wonderful is that over time, you’re going to make, you know—I’m thinking about it from the mistakes perspective—you’re going to make different mistakes. And that’s okay. But if you’re checking in with people, and you’re showing that you’re curious, and you’re, you know, with your actions and your words, showing that you’re trying to be a better person, and be more respectful.
Yeah, you’re going to trip up and make mistakes along the way. That’s life. And people are, I think, more forgiving when they see that you’re making an effort.
Absolutely. And that’s really the take home message. It’s not about, you know, the anxiety of, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to misstep.” Or—
“Oh my gosh, you know, I’m going to be canceled.” Right? You know, it’s really, I’m coming in with that desire to be respectful, and to know that I will misstep, and I need to learn. I want to learn, and I need people to give me feedback.
It’s funny that you mentioned that. When “Me Too” really kind of kicked off, a lot of my friends that are female would ask me about it because I’m relatively opinionated. And I’m like, well I wasn’t shocked that Silicon Valley was loaded with dudes that are sexual predators. Or Wall Street or Hollywood. Like, none of that’s shocking to me as a guy.
But you know, one of the things that it did change in me is like, you know, this is my time to shut up and listen. Like to actually hear the stories and to let women tell their stories. Not just that, but more or less open myself up to then hear all of the things that I just assumed were going on. And hear all the gross details and be as upset with those details. And then do something different; do something about it.
Right. And again, it highlights the curiosity and willingness to step in someone else’s shoes to understand their experience. And it’s hard. It’s hard to do that and, you know, that’s—
Actually VR, virtual reality, is really good at that. And that’s why we use it. It’s to really help people more deeply understand the lived experience of people from all kinds of different demographic backgrounds.
Well, Robin, you and I could keep talking forever and ever and ever. But thank you so much for coming on the show and explaining this, because I think it’s a wonderful topic. And I think it’s good now, and I think it’ll be good in a decade.
You know, it’s just great to be talking about it.
I mean, these are great topics, and you’re clearly really knowledgeable and curious yourself. So it shows.
I’m trying. I’m trying. It’s a— They say it’s a journey, right? We’re just all trying to learn more about the things that we don’t know.
So, thank you again, Robin. I appreciate you, and I also appreciate everyone listens, or everyone that listens, to the RecruitingDaily podcast. And until next time.
The RecruitingDaily Podcast
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.
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