• janellegsheen

Book Review: The Cost of Bad Behavior


‘Incivility’ is not a term I hear a lot in Melbourne. On the other hand I read it quite a bit in American sources, such as this book. From my reading I have the impression that, at times, ‘incivility’ is a ‘polite’ way to speak about ‘workplace bullying’. I say lets call the actions for what they are.

It is important to distinguish ‘workplace bullying’ from ‘workplace incivilities’. They are different and they need to be addressed differently. Workplace bullying is a major issue and has been referred to as the ‘silent epidemic’ for close to 20 years, if not longer (Mc Avoy, 2003; Turner 2018). Despite attempts to address workplace bullying, it has not been addressed effectively. Workplace bullying is an issue that still needs to be address and to do that requires clarity.

Christine Pearson and Christine Porath are American business school professors who are recognised for their research on workplace incivilities. Their research has highlighted how wide spread workplace ‘incivilities’ are, along with the associated costs. With that information they have written a powerful and valuable book.

‘The Cost of Bad Behavior’ starts with a very brief history on work place incivility, and then provides information on the cost to individuals and organisations, especially the measurable costs to businesses. Finishing with practical steps to address workplace incivilities. Indeed ‘The Cost of Bad Behavior’ is one of two books that I have been impressed with regarding the information provided for targets.

Too often the information on workplace bullying, in my experience, provided to targets and victims is ‘idealist’ and practically useless, if not blatantly harmful. The harm of the ‘idealist approach’ can compound the impact of the bullying on Targets significantly. Thus quality and realistic information for Targets is important. While this book doesn’t focus on Targets, Pearson and Porath do provide quality information for Targets.

I loved that Pearson and Porath provide information on the different aspects to incivility with suggestions for organisations, leaders, Targets and those offenders who wish to change their personal communication style. As I said and will say again, the information is quality and valuable. I also loved that they indicate the simple reality that ‘incivilities’ and ‘bullying’ is so prominent in our society that many of us have poor communication styles we wish to change. Noting that with opportunity, education and commitment these individuals can change. While Pearson and Porath did make note of this critical point, I feel it is not adequately acknowledge. As I believe this is key to why it is so difficult to address both workplace incivility and bullying.

Thus we get to the two reasons this book is not in my top 10. Firstly because my focus is on individual practice and ‘The Cost of Bad Behavior’ has a strong focus on organisations and what they can do about workplace incivility. While this is a really valuable, it is not my focus. More importantly, to me, downplaying the actions by calling them ‘incivilities’ rather than what they are, ‘workplace bullying’, gets my backup. We need to call these inappropriate behavior what they are, and clearly distinguish them from workplace incivilities. Incivilities need to be managed very differently to workplace bullying and this cannot be done effectively without clarity.

In summary Pearson and Porath provide a comprehensive overview of the costs of ‘incivilities’ to Targets and organisations, as well as providing ‘realistic’ suggestions for dealing with the issue. This book is valuable to Targets, for the small number of chapters designed specifically for individuals. At the same time it is invaluable for those engaged in businesses where workplace bullying maybe, let alone is, an issue. Grasping an understanding of the measurable associated costs might inspire some businesses to take action. I truly hope so.

Everyone matters.

Mc Avoy, B. R. 2003 Workplace bullying: The silent epidemic BMJ. 2003 Apr 12; 326(7393): 776–777. doi: 10.1136/bmj.326.7393.776 PMCID: PMC1125699 PMID: 12689952 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1125699/

Accessed 12th July 2020

Turner, R. 2018 Australian workers 'grin and bear' it in silent workplace bullying epidemic https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-03-16/workplace-bullying-an-epidemic-so-what-is-a-safe-workplace/9552456 Accessed 12th July 2020

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