Today the phrase “selective incivility” popped into my worldview. Part of an article on how the Swiss discriminate against immigrants, it means “low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target, in violation of workplace norms for mutual respect,” selectively delivered to certain groups. That’s some language to chew on.
The article, part of a special series on race and ethnicity in the workplace, tested whether certain groups, defined by their national origin and associated stereotypes, were more or less likely to receive this kind of treatment. The authors argued French and German immigrants, deemed both highly competent (read: threatening) and less warm, were more likely than immigrants from other countries (controlling for things like gender, age and personality) to experience coworkers doing the following:
Now, devoid of race, which this article was, I find these findings pretty meaningless – certainly not eligible for the stated comparison with race relations between White and Asian coworkers in the US. BUT! Call me intrigued by “selective incivility”. Where does this fit among the other words for “bad stuff happening in the workplace”? Harassment, hostility, implicit bias, racial microaggressions? I’m not sure, but it has a special appeal as follows:
"These beliefs present a subtle, ostensibly rational form of expressing prejudice and help people preserve a nonprejudiced self-image. ...This discrimination is subtle because of the ambiguous nature and apparent neutrality of the uncivil behaviors, instigators easily find (consciously or not) nonprejudicial explanations for their conduct (e.g., “I have too much work”). Selective incivility is hence a particularly well-suited means by which people may mistreat minorities without damaging their nonprejudiced image of themselves and toward others. "
So, it’s the ultimate passive aggressive tool. It’s like micro-passive-aggression. The perpetrator remains innocent, a desire well-documented in predominantly white workplaces. A nice new word for a nasty little trend.