The Cost of Incivility

June 6, 2019
Reading time: 3 minutes


Have you ever had a run-in with an Internet troll? Have you ever left a conversation with your boss or an authority figure feeling belittled or disrespected? Have you ever exchanged surprisingly heated words with someone who cut in front of you in a line, disagreed with your perspective on something during a meeting, or wrote a nasty comment in response to something you shared on social media?

The wisdom of Kabbalah teaches that our lives are built minute-by-minute; through our thoughts, words, and actions. And those actions define us, for better or worse. How you show up to your life in even the smallest ways; how you treat people daily means everything. It is the truest mark of your success no matter what you spend your day doing. Even so, when people push our buttons we all have the propensity to be a little uncivil.

Incivility is defined by Merriam Webster as “being unsociable or discourteous in speech or behavior.” Christine Porath, author, and professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, has extensively researched the effects of incivility and found them to be enormously toxic not only in the workplace but in our lives. While Porath typically parlays her work into success strategies for businesses like Google, AT&T, and Pixar, inevitably she found that these principles apply much more broadly.

It all begins with the question: Who do you want to be?

In every interaction, we have a choice to make someone feel heard, seen, and respected, or make them feel small, powerless, judged, or insulted. The spectrum of incivility is wide and is something we each define for ourselves; what is uncivil to one person may go totally unnoticed by another. But what is certain is we all know what doesn’t feel good to us, and that’s a good place to start.

Imagine your boss or team leader making comments like, “What are you, an idiot?” or “A kindergartener could understand this!” What about a boss who texts while you’re speaking or a manager who asserts, “If I wanted your opinion, I’d ask for it.” Granted, all of these are examples of incivility in the workplace, but the statistics from Porath’s research reveal something heartbreaking about the effects of these rude, yet seemingly “harmless” interactions. “What we found,” she says, “is that incivility made people less motivated: 66 percent cut back work efforts, 80 percent lost time worrying about what happened, and 12 percent left their job.”

Incivility not only affects the person receiving the punishing words but also the people who witness or hear it. This, in turn, affects the performances of those people, which will affect the eventual bottom line. This is true from corporate structures to creative agencies to medical arenas. Incivility comes with an incredibly high cost, no matter the atmosphere — and that includes your life.

Luckily, civility is found in the smallest of actions taken consistently on a daily basis. Smiling at someone when you pass them on the street, saying hello to people, openly giving credit where it’s due, and taking a genuine interest in the people around you. It looks like checking your frustration or stress, not unloading it by honking at someone who cuts you off or being short with your family. Taking deep breaths throughout the day and remembering, in every circumstance, who it is you want to be.

Being civil doesn’t just mean not being a jerk. It means really opening up and looking for ways to help others do the same. That is the power that we have. In a world where being anonymously nasty is all too easy given the comments sections of Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, exercise your innate ability to be kind, uplifting, and generous of spirit.

If you act with kindness in every single moment, whether it’s a meeting with the owner of the company or letting the mom with the full cart and crying toddler go ahead of you in line at the grocery store, you’ll be changing the world. One act of civility at a time. The wisdom of Kabbalah says that if we follow a path of radical kindness and sharing, and this is the only spiritual practice we ever took on, our lives would transform in unimaginable ways.

So, who will you choose to be today?


If you have been guilty of incivility, commit yourself to better. What does civility look like to you? How can you lift up the people around you today?

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  1. Does this book cover incivility? How in depth?

  2. Irma Bobroff : June 6, 2019 at 8:51 pm

    I thank you for sharing the beautiful wisdom of Kabbalah with the world
    Everyday. Discovering it and learning from it has made me a better person.

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