What do employers want? Perhaps to no one's surprise, employers want employees to possess and practice a variety of skills and abilities. Among these are communication skills—creating written documents and visuals, for example. But according to a group of Iowa State University researchers, employers "perceive oral communication skills to be the predominant mode of communication needed for job performance." And among those oral skills, that research suggests, employers now prize one skill especially highly: interpersonal communication, that process through which two or more people exchange information and ideas, usually face-to-face.

Soft skills. People skills. Social skills. When done well in the workplace, interpersonal communication can build and maintain relationships, pave a smoother path to accomplishment, motivate employees at all levels, create an atmosphere of collegiality likely to enhance productivity and satisfaction.

But when done poorly? One result is the growing incivility in the workplace. As authors of "The Price of Incivility" report, "Rudeness at work is rampant, and it's on the rise. Over the past 14 years we've polled thousands of workers about how they're treated on the job, and 98% have reported experiencing uncivil behavior. In 2011 half said they were treated rudely at least once a week—up from a quarter in 1998." And, as the title of the article suggests and its text makes clear, incivility costs.

Although some place responsibility for workplace incivility at the feet of managers, perhaps every worker can help reduce incivility by improving his or her own interpersonal communication skills.


  • Be kind. Use the good manners your mother no doubt encouraged. That means, for example, that you muffle sarcastic or exasperated or rude impulses by transforming them into, at least, neutral tones and diction. So don't exclaim, "You got this all wrong!" when you read a colleague's report. A kinder and more positive response might be "I'm not sure that this first section captures all major factors that went into the decision. Do you have a minute to discuss it?"
  • Be patient in conversations, meetings, and discussions, especially when a coworker may be having difficulty grasping or understanding your point or request. Reword it. Reframe. Provide more and better context. Try again. Nicely.
  • Adopt a coworker's perspective in order to understand what he needs, wants, or questions. If you can see something from his perspective, you gain insight into what is driving him and thus put yourself in a better position to respond appropriately. Whenever possible, locate common ground and communicate from it.
  • Meet your obligations; follow up on them. If you've ever spent a day waiting for a promised call or email that never arrived, you know how frustrating it can be and are likely to have felt disregarded. Should a situation arise that prevents you from meeting a commitment, send word as soon as possible.
  • Listen actively by making meaning as another speaks. Pay attention—don't rush to judgment or start forming objections or responses. Hear the speaker out.


  • To prevent wasting others' time or your own (and perhaps breeding resentment or irritation), let your coworkers know what you're working on.
  • Share new developments or information that may affect others' work or concerns.
  • Ask colleagues to assist you with a project by providing information, ideas, or institutional history; ask for a review of a document, a response to a draft presentation. To be asked is validation—it shows a colleague that you value her ability. It builds trust.
  • Thank others for the help they provide, the contributions they make. Acknowledging others, showing your appreciation of them to them, can ratchet up the civility of any workplace.

Most employees have probably had a colleague who exceeded the bounds of civility, one who spread toxicities like pollen in the spring. Don't be that person.