• incivility;
  • interpersonal mistreatment;
  • attribution;
  • blame;
  • forgiveness;
  • revenge;
  • diary study

This study investigated employees' behavioural responses to incivility, a form of interpersonal mistreatment, across time. Having established substantial within-person differences in the way individuals responded to incidents, we examined how appraisals of severity and blame, the relative status of instigator, and target personality affected how a target responded on a given day. Perceived severity of the critical incident significantly predicted whether or not a target engaged in negative behaviour towards the instigator, negative behaviour towards others, support seeking, and forgiveness. Neither the hierarchical status of the instigator relative to the target, nor the target's attributions of blame for the specific incident predicted an individual's responses to that incident. Target neuroticism predicted three response categories: ignore/avoid the instigator, respond negatively to the instigator, and seek support. Neuroticism also significantly moderated the within-person relationship between the perceived severity of an uncivil event and two daily responses: ignore/avoid the instigator and forgive the instigator. The results are discussed in terms of their practical implications for understanding how and why individuals respond to acts of incivility at work.

Practitioner points

  • Uncivil behaviour – rude or disrespectful interpersonal incidents – is a common occurrence in workplaces and a type of daily hassle or chronic stressor for target individuals.
  • Incivility has been shown to lead to an array of negative individual and organizational outcomes, including psychological distress and anxiety, greater job stress, reduced task performance and creativity, lower job satisfaction, increased job withdrawal, and higher turnover. Our findings illustrate the link between an individual's experience of an uncivil incident and their immediate behavioural responses.
  • Workplace interventions aimed at minimizing the harm caused by incivility could focus on educating employees about: the potential impact of incivility; how a person's perception and appraisal of an incident might change their response; how a victim might re-frame the meaning of what happened; and appropriate actions the victim can take in response to uncivil incidents.