Is Civility a Reputation Driver?

June 26, 2010

Is Civility a Reputation Driver?

Weber Shandwick just issued a research report on Civility in America. We did it with Powell Tate and KRC Research. There is an abundance of interesting information such as the fact that 94% of Americans think that civility is a major problem in the United States and has become worse since the recession. Seventy-two percent of Americans view the political world and government as the most uncivil – the highest percentage recorded in the poll – and the absence of civility appears to be having an impact on participation and interest in the political process among broad swaths of the public.
Nearly half the American people (49%) are “tuning out” of government and politics, and almost two-thirds of those people (63%) cite the general tone and level of civility as a major factor in their decision. A fairly large 46% of people are tuning out opinion pieces and editorials in the media, and 45% cite incivility as a major factor. Over one third (38%) are tuning out news coverage and reporting and half of them (50%) attribute their actions to the lack of civility. How can we be an informed public when growing numbers of us are turning away from what makes America tick?

This is bad enough but what got me is how the public is turning away from companies who desperately need their business to rebuild our economy. A full three-quarters (75%) of Americans believe that companies that are uncivil should be boycotted. In fact, 64% of Americans report that they have advised others not to buy products or services because they felt the company or its representatives were rude or uncivil. Companies clearly need to be closely monitoring and listening to their “badvocates” or critics to make sure they are not overlooking poor customer service or improper commentary. Reputations can be damaged quickly when customers perceive they are not being treated properly. When you think of companies that are extremely courteous, helpful and patient such as Zappos, you realize how important “tone” can be and what drives reputation in some industries. I sure hope you have seen their puppet commercials which take civility to new heights.

Business leaders also have considerable influence, since they are expected to set an example for behaving civilly. Nearly every American (91%) believes that business leaders should set an example for behaving with civility. Not only are business leaders expected to act with civility, but the majority (82%) believe that companies should not tolerate uncivil behavior in the workplace. I always find it remarkable how CEOs are held responsible for everything that goes wrong (as they should often be but not for everything!) and realize that incivility is now being added to their plate.

All in all, how a company and its leaders communicate and engage says it all and with the Internet and 24/7 media, companies must be extra careful. The recent events with Gen. Stanley McChrystal are just a recent example of how the wrong tone and poor choice of words can get you into hot water.


[If you are interested in this topic, you might want to visit Civilination.]

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

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