Rudeness in the workplace is contagious, a new study finds.
Experiencing rude behaviour makes people more likely to expect it later on.
That expectation then causes people to behave more rudely to others.
The conclusions come from a psychology study of graduate students who were practising negotiation with their classmates.
The researchers found that people who negotiated with someone rated as rude were more likely to be rated as rude by someone else later on.
The effects held even when there was a week between the first and second negotiation.
Mr Trevor Foulk, one of the study’s authors, said:
“When you experience rudeness, it makes rudeness more noticeable.
You’ll see more rudeness even if it’s not there.”
Rudeness spreads so easily partly because people are remarkably tolerant of it, said Mr Foulk:
“Part of the problem is that we are generally tolerant of these behaviors, but they’re actually really harmful.
Rudeness has an incredibly powerful negative effect on the workplace.”
Rudeness also spreads easily because it primes our brains to detect rudeness.
In a further study, people who’d witnessed a rude interaction were quicker to pick out rude words from a list.
“That tells us that rudeness will flavor the way you interpret ambiguous cues.”
In other words: immediately after experiencing rudeness, you tend to be on the lookout for it.
Mr Foulk believes employers should take everyday incivilities 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.
It isn’t something you can just turn your back on.
The study was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology (Foulk et al., 2015).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: Gerolf Nikolay