We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Catherine Mattice. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Catherine below.
Catherine, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today We’d love to have you retell us the story behind how you came up with the idea for your business, I think our audience would really enjoy hearing the backstory.
I was the Director of HR for a nonprofit organization, and during that time I experienced workplace bullying – defined by academic researchers as psychological abuse at work. In addition to being bullied myself, as the Director of HR I also dealt with the organizational damage bullies cause (i.e., turnover, wasted time, counseling others who were hurt, trying to convince the President to put a stop to the behavior, etc.). It was exhausting to both feel bullied as an individual, while also trying to address the organizational end of it as HR. During that time, I began graduate school and in my first semester the universe presented me with two courses that sealed my fate – ethnography (a class about how to journal and research inside a specific context) and the dark side of communication (a class about all the darkness in human communication, such as sibling rivalry and domestic violence). Naturally I had to write a paper for both, and sought a topic that would cover both courses. I settled on something like toxic leadership as it was in the context of my work and it is dark human communication. As I began my research I came across the phrase workplace bullying and I was hooked – I’ve never looked back.
I started my consulting business soon out of graduate school, and I knew I was on to something because no one else was addressing this topic. In fact, everyone I know told me there’s no way I could start a business focused on solving workplace bullying, but having read all that research from around the world I knew it was a pervasive problem and I could help solve it. All these years later, those people tell me they’re so glad I didn’t listen to them!
Ultimately, bullying is an organizational culture problem, and I work with clients to change culture from dark and aggressive to one where employees can thrive. View my speech about my story here: https://youtu.be/qptaG8ecaEY, if you’d like.
Catherine, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
Back before it was popular to talk about the difficult and often overlooked topics of bullying and harassment, I was donning my superhero cape and working with organizations to break ground on the important conversations that lead to lasting positive behavior change. We are an HR consulting firm solving the very specific problem of toxic workplaces where harassment, bullying and exclusivity thrive.
From the humble beginnings of just me, myself and I – working out of my one-bedroom apartment in OB over a decade ago – Civility Partners has grown to a fleet of trainers/facilitators and consultants working nationally and internationally to make the world a better place. Our training programs provide the tools needed for each individual in an organization to be respectful and inclusive. We are passionate about and insist that our trainings inform and stimulate the mind while also opening one’s heart to foster closer working connections between coworkers and departments company-wide. Our training programs take a courageous, compassionate, and even entertaining approach to the very challenging topics found within toxic workplaces.
The comprehensive journey we embark upon with our clients goes well beyond a one-off training, however, and often involves a multi-pronged strategic plan that supports ongoing progress on the demanding road of sustainable behavior (and thus culture) change. Working with Civility Partners is like having access to a wise friend that has your back no matter what may be facing your workplace and can save you from unforeseen harm.
For example, the IT Dept at UC Berkeley was shocked when a woman came forward publicly about the harassment and discrimination she experienced, and many women followed. Civility Partners was hired and conducted a climate survey and found, among many problems, that on a scale of 1-5 (5 = bullied daily) that women averaged a score of 4 while men averaged a score of 2. After one year of work together, Civility Partners conducted a second survey and both scores had dropped to an average of 1.2 on that same scale of 1 to 5. This is just one example of how I and the Civility Partners’ consulting team successfully work our magic. Visit UC Berkeley’s website for more on our work together: https://technology.berkeley.edu/culture.
One last consideration that sets us apart from other firms is our transformational coaching program. While most HR professionals don’t know how to effectively manage workplace bullies, and are often frozen by lack of understanding about how to help the situation, we actually get energized by mining the gold that is hidden behind a leader’s reactive exterior. I am an executive coach who specializes in assisting abusive, bullying executives and leaders who are typically highly valuable to the company because of their skills or ideas, but are causing pain and trauma in those around them.
We believe that elevated self-awareness becomes the rising tide that raises all boats, and Civility Partners seeks to have the largest impact possible with each of its clients so we can bring organizations to new heights.
Can you tell us about a time you’ve had to pivot?
My story goes back to when I started Civility Partners – this was the biggest pivot of them all. I graduated from grad school in 2007, and by then was working for a start-up tech firm who’d received a large investment from Tom Petters (of Polaroid and Sun Country Airlines). Fun fact, he’s since been featured on an episode of American Greed. Anyway, in 2008, as the recession hit, I went into work and discovered only those “administrative” people there – me as HR, the bookkeeper, the marketing guy, etc. The boss said, “This is a tech company, and we’ve run out of money. You all are not tech people, so I’ve got to lay you off.”
I suddenly found myself driving home with no job at the beginning of a recession. Between being bullied at my last job, and being laid off at this job, I decided I’d rather do my own thing. I drove home, walked in the door, opened my laptop, and bought a website. I spent the rest of the day crafting a business via that website, and the rest is history.
What advice do you have for employers around keeping team morale high in this day and age?
As a culture consultant, who specializes in turning around toxic cultures and toxic people, I can tell you that your teams need you to treat them like people, and your managers need training in how to manage people and behavior – beyond performance and job tasks. It seems so silly that I even have to say this, but I see it all the time. Your managers need training in how to manage people – they need to be taught how, and advised of the expectation, to step in when employees engage in behavior like gossip, microaggressions, incivility and inappropriate jokes. These subtle but highly impactful behaviors open the door for more negativity to creep in and over time, those behaviors escalate to harassment and bullying.
Second, you’ve got to make it comfortable for people to be vulnerable. We were already moving toward a world where we could be the same person all of the time – the person at work and the person at home have been slowly merging. And COVID sped that up as we saw into people’s homes and were vulnerable together. Make room for emotions, crying, appearing “weak.” Because showing emotions takes a lot of courage, and showing emotions is human. In the end, the more vulnerable you let people be, the more loyal they’ll be to you.
- Website: https://civilitypartners.com/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/civilitypartners/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CivilityPartners/
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/catherinemattice/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/catmattice
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjYrRSATjJA9ihYRDey4GTA
- Other: LinkedIn Learning Courses: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/instructors/catherine-mattice?u=2125562