University of Missouri

Show Me Respect

Promoting Civility at the University of Missouri

Show Me Respect: Promoting Civility at the University of Missouri

Tips for Confronting Incivility

Incivility is a term that encompasses a range of behaviors from the irritating (for example, cutting in line) to abusive (like, bullying). Some minor instances of incivility we can simply dismiss as inconsequential; but in other situations, incivility and disrespect interfere with our relationships and our work and learning environments.

Keep in mind, people are often unaware of the way their communication or behavior is perceived by others. They may act thoughtlessly or selfishly when they are caught up in their own issues. They may be ignorant of the negative impact of certain terminology or "humor." Sometimes, because of who we are and our background, the impact of others' behavior on us may be far different than they intended or even understood. And, of course, sometimes people are simply rude or aggressive and might not care . . . but this is (hopefully) the exception more than the rule.

When you perceive someone's behavior as disrespectful, take a moment to critically reflect on the situation. Consider the following questions:

Judgments and Assumptions


The Great Unknown

Try This 3-Step Approach

Step 1—Think strategically about when to approach the person.
What do you think will be most effective: Speaking up in the moment? Waiting until some time has passed so that emotional level might be diffused? Should you go alone or with someone else? Does it make sense to confront the person in front of others so that you might have some back up? Or is it better to talk alone over coffee or lunch? Is this something that has happened repeatedly in certain situations so that you could talk to the person preemptively?

Step 2—Formulate your message based on the 3 R’s
Sometimes if we are angry or hurt, it’s hard to find words that won’t lead to an argument. Sometimes, we are just so taken aback by what has been said that we are left speechless. Thinking about the 3 R’s can help you craft a message that reflects your good intentions.

You might say, "Since you work here, I know you must be concerned about a good working environment. So I thought it would be helpful to you to let you know that . . ."

Step 3—Be assertive but be prepared for them to be defensive, and to hear another side.

The 3 R's are a helpful way to frame your message. However, no matter how respectful and responsible you are and no matter how good your timing, you are still confronting someone about something they said or did. It’s still a critique and many people will get defensive, especially if they did not mean to hurt or offend anyone. Sometimes we are so focused on delivering our well‐thought-out message that we forget that the other person probably does not want to hear it. So you have to be prepared for that kind of immediate reaction to your involvement and don’t respond in kind.

You also have to be open to hearing their explanation. They may see the situation from a completely different perspective. We only experience life in our own shoes and no one holds all the stock on ‘truth.’ And it may be that there is a real difference between someone’s intentions and the impact it has. In such cases it is helpful to acknowledge the person’s intentions and say, “Okay, I get that . . . but even if you didn’t mean it to be offensive, it was . . . at least from my perspective.”