I know we’re all polite to our co-workers, leaders, and employees and would never say or do a rude thing toward them because we know just experiencing rudeness is harmful in the workplace.
“When you experience rudeness, it makes rudeness more noticeable,” said Trevor Foulk, a doctoral student in management at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business Administration. “You’ll see more rudeness even if it’s not there.”
Foulk and colleagues recently published a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology that shows evidence of how rudeness spreads like a virus 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 researchers had 90 graduate students practice negotiation skills with classmates. They found that participants who rated their initial negotiation partners as rude were in turn more likely to be rated as rude by a subsequent partner. This effect held event when a week went by between the first and second negotiations.
In another study, the researchers discovered that people who witness rudeness were more likely to be rude to others, too. For example, when participants watched a video featuring a rude workplace interaction and then had to answer a customer email that was in a neutral tone, they were more likely to be rude in their responses than participants who watched a polite interaction before replying to the email.
“That tells us that rudeness will flavor the way you interpret ambiguous cues,” Foulk said.
Foulk said he hopes the study will encourage employers to take incivility more seriously, if they’re not already.
“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.”
(Sources: Alisson Clark/University of Florida)