Workplace rudeness is contagious, study says
Rudeness in the workplace isn’t just unpleasant: It’s also contagious.
“When you experience rudeness, it makes rudeness more noticeable,” said lead author Trevor Foulk, a doctoral student in management at UF’s Warrington College of Business Administration. “You’ll see more rudeness even if it’s not there.”
The findings, published June 29 in the Journal of Applied Psychology, provide the first evidence that everyday impoliteness spreads in the workplace.
“Part of the problem is that we are generally tolerant of these behaviors, but they’re actually really harmful,” Foulk said. “Rudeness has an incredibly powerful negative effect on the workplace.”
The study tracked 90 graduate students practicing negotiation with classmates. Those who rated their initial negotiation partner as rude were more likely to be rated as rude by a subsequent partner, showing that they passed along the first partner’s rudeness. The effect continued even when a week elapsed between the first and second negotiations.
Rudeness directed at others can also prime our brains to detect discourtesy. Foulk and his co-authors, fellow doctoral student Andrew Woolum and UF management professor Amir Erez, tested how quickly 47 undergraduate students could identify which words in a list were real and which were nonsense words. Before the exercise began, participants observed one of two staged interactions between an apologetic late-arriving participant and the study leader. When the leader was rude to the latecomer, the participants identified rude words on the list as real words significantly faster than participants who had observed the neutral interaction.
The impact of secondhand rudeness didn’t stop there, however: Just like those who experience rudeness firsthand, people who witness it were more likely to be rude to others. When study participants watched a video of a rude workplace interaction, then answered a fictitious customer email that was neutral in tone, they were more likely to be hostile in their responses than those who viewed a polite interaction before responding.
“That tells us that rudeness will flavor the way you interpret ambiguous cues,” Foulk said.
Foulk hopes the study will encourage employers to take incivility more seriously.
“You might go your whole career and not experience abuse or aggression in the workplace, but rudeness also has a negative effect on performance,” he said. “It isn’t something you can just turn your back on. It matters.”
Rudeness At Work: On the Rise, And Coming With A Big Cost
Just because you’ve developed a thick skin for rude, discourteous behavior, doesn’t mean workplace incivility is not hurting you–and your family. A new Baylor University study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior found that workplace rudeness can follow you home, causing you to unleash “incivil” behavior on your loved ones.
That’s disconcerting news for the 43% of Americans who have experienced incivility at work, according to the report, Civility in America, 2011. To be clear, incivility is different from aggressive bullying, which usually carries the intent to harm someone. With incivility, the intent is ambiguous, and it’s less intense and characterized by demeaning remarks, showing little interest in a worker’s opinion, acting rudely or with poor manners, among other uncivilized behaviors.
The Baylor study found that those who experienced workplace incivility had lower levels of marital satisfaction and greater family/work conflict, particularly for the partner. It also found that stress from incivility was contagious to family members.
My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:
Christmas is a difficult time for us, and I’m sure for you guys. Your absence is felt more strongly during the holidays. We miss you and love you boys so much! Do try to enjoy the warmth and joy of Christmas. It’s such a special season. It has always been for us, and will be again some day.
For now try to get into the Christmas spirit and be kind to loved ones and others. Like rudeness, kindness is also contagious. Be kind.
Kindness is Contagious, New Study Finds
Imerman Angels, a cancer support organization based in Chicago, has “floods of volunteers,” according to John May, chairman of its board of directors and a long-time volunteer himself.
“You can’t help but just get excited to get involved,” he said.
These do-gooders are not alone: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 63 million people volunteered in 2009, 1.6 million more than the year before. But the question of motive remains: Why is being nice so popular these days?
New research may unlock the mystery: Kindness is contagious, according to a study done by researchers at University of California, Los Angeles, and University of Cambridge and University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom.
When we see someone else help another person it gives us a good feeling, which in turn causes us to go out and do something altruistic ourselves, the study found, which was the first of its kind to systematically document this tendency in human nature.
“When you feel this sense of moral ‘elevation’ not only do you say you want to be a better person and help others,” said Simone Schnall, of Cambridge, the lead researcher. “But you actually do when the opportunity presents itself.”
Researchers performed two experiments in which they showed viewers either a nature documentary, a funny TV clip or an uplifting segment from the Oprah Winfrey Show, and then asked them to voluntarily help with another task. In both cases, participants that watched Oprah and subsequently experienced the elevated feeling were more likely to help.
“Elevation,” a term coined by Thomas Jefferson, is different from regular happiness, a specific emotion that we experience only when we see someone else engaged in virtuous acts, Schnall said.
And though previous studies have documented this emotional response before, little research had been done to see if people actually acted on their feelings of being inspired, she said.
“Human nature is essentially good,” she said. “And this study proves that seeing good things actually makes us better.”
Do you remember what Father Dave used to say? Before you speak, ask yourself: (1) is it kind? (2) is it helpful? (3) is it necessary? If it doesn’t pass all three of those tests, keep it to yourself.
Sometimes, you will be challenged to be kind when encountering rudeness — which appears to be more pervasive these days. If that should happen, think of Emily Post’s advice.
Five Ways to Combat Rudeness
Handling other people’s rudeness is tricky. You can’t control someone else’s behavior. So focus on maintaining your own standard of good behavior instead. Here are some tips to help:
- Don’t take it personally. Perhaps the offender is having a bad day.
- Size up your annoyances. Is it worth it to make a fuss over something small, or is it a waste of your emotional time?
- Set a good example. Rudeness begets rudeness. If you speak sharply to the bank teller, don’t be surprised if you get the same treatment in return.
- Count to ten. When someone’s behavior makes you angry, take a few deep breaths and ask yourself, “Is it really worth blowing my stack over this?”
- Laugh it off. If you can’t come up with a friendly joke, just chuckle and change the subject.
My goal for my life is significantly less ambitious than Gandhi’s. I simply want to leave my little corner of the world a little nicer than how I found it. That’s it.
In my younger days, I had grandiose goals — to change the world, to teach kids how to be altruistic, to create good laws and good policies that would elevate society, to fight the great injustices inflicted upon the weak by the powerful and greedy, to help the homeless, to protect the abused, etc. These days, I just want my sons, a clean sidewalk, a patch of grass that is litter-free, hope for the future, etc.
Whatever your goals, try to reach it through kindness rather than rudeness, meanness, and pettiness. For example, years ago, I thought about applying to law school at Georgetown University. However, I was disabused of that idea by roommates who attended GU Law. We agreed GU has a great law school, but it was also a mean one. Students there were known to hide reference books that were necessary for class assignments, steal classmates’ notes, and sabotage other students. No doubt GU Law students are smart people — they gained admission to a top-tier program. However, their conducts also revealed their insecurities. They saw the world as a zero sum game, and believed they could only advance by pulling others down. That’s a pitiful way of looking at the world.
Thankfully, not every one sees the world that way. In graduate school for a social program at Duke University, for example, during the first week of school, we were given an assignment and the manual for SPSSx — a statistical analysis program used for, among other things, multi-variable programing and data analysis. None of us were computer programmers. None of us had programming experience. The manual was gibberish to us — we might as well be learning Chinese. In the Computer Lab, some of the girls cried out of frustration. Others stewed. (Remember, all of us were used to success and smart enough to gain admission to that top-ranked graduate program at Duke University!) After a while, someone brought music. Others brought beer. Slowly, as a group, we worked together to decipher that manual and teach each other SPSSx.
Success doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. If you help nurture others and surround yourselves with bright and capable people, think how much more you could accomplish as a group versus on your own. Each of us bring different strengths to the table. Why not utilize the different skill sets for the good of the group? Insecure people tear down others. Secure people understands the value of working together with others and that other’s gifts do not necessarily diminish their own.
Avoid those who tear you down to lift themselves up: work with those who believe it in working together to improve the lot of everyone.
All my love, always,