Civility Saves Lives

Chris Turner

I had a really great experience eating a meal in a pub with my elderly mum a few weeks ago. Apart from the fact that the food was delicious and well-priced, what made a difference was that the staff were terrific – polite, attentive, informed in helping us choose and being particularly patient with mum’s indecision.  Not for the first time I was struck by the impact that great manners and taking a genuine interest in others can have to deliver a very rewarding experience.

This reminded me of a recent conversation I had with a Medical Director at an NHS hospital trust, and his enthusiasm for the increasing evidence base showing that civility between colleagues can greatly improve patient care and save lives.

Put simply, if someone is rude to us at work, even if this is mild to moderate, and not extreme, research shows that our bandwidth to complete our tasks can be reduced by up to 61%.  As we can often feel powerless and even humiliated, this reduction in our performance can have an enduring impact throughout the day.  Furthermore, when an incident of rudeness or incivility occurs in teams, there is a collateral impact on other team members: a 20% reduction in team performance and a 50% drop in willingness to help others.

This has a major influence on how teams work and deliver.  Research from Riskin and Erez (The Impact of Rudeness on Medical Team Performance; Pediatrics; September 2015) shows that the single most important fact that determines the output of medical teams is how they treat each other.

So, if there is now strong evidence that when we work with someone who is civil and treats us with respect, we feel empowered and encouraged to work at our best, and the reverse is undoubtedly true, what is our challenge as leaders?  Maybe it starts with saying please and thank you routinely? Asking your colleague about their weekend, and holidays at this time of year? Avoiding rolling our eyes if someone continues to repeat things you’ve heard before? Tackling unacceptable behaviours in others proactively rather than expending wasted efforts going around them?

I would like to acknowledge the excellent work of Chris Turner and Civility Saves Lives – a project with a mission to promote positive behaviours and share the evidence base around positive and negative behaviours https://www.civilitysaveslives.com.  A fascinating TEDx talk by Chris Turner from June this year can be seen here: