Exploring the puzzle of civility: Whether and when team civil communication influences team members’ role performance

Yihao Liu, Dana R. Vashdi, Thomas Cross, Peter Bamberger, Amir Erez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Does ‘being nice’ to each other always improve employee performance? Although research on workplace incivility has been growing, little is known about the flip side of it – workplace civility. In fact, different theoretical perspectives have suggested that civility could have positive (i.e. the flexibility perspective) or negative (i.e. the heuristics perspective) cognitive implications. In the current research, we examined whether and when workplace civility (operationalized as team civil communication) influences team members’ role performance in two studies. In Study 1, we recorded team civil communication among 108 teams of students who participated in a team-based simulation, and found that team civil communication enhanced team members’ role performance. In Study 2, we observed and coded 186 real-time surgeries conducted by surgical teams from a health-care center. Results showed a more nuanced and complex pattern regarding the influence of team civil communication, insofar as it enhanced team members’ role performance in teams with less complex tasks, but the effect decreased or even flipped to negative when team task complexity increased. These findings suggest that civility can have both positive and negative influences on performance, with the net effect being contingent upon the broader environmental demands faced by the team.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-241
Number of pages27
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2019.


  • role performance
  • team communication
  • team task complexity
  • teamwork
  • workplace civility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Social Sciences
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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