Workplace incivility has numerous well-known consequences including reduced employee engagement and productivity, summarized by North Carolina State University’s James E. Bartlett and Michelle E. Bartlett with Florida Atlantic University’s Thomas G. Reio.
Rudeness in the workplace is also contagious and leads people to be vigilant for similar slights in subsequent interactions, reported University of Florida’s Trevor Foulk, Andrew Woolum, and Amir Erez.
They suggested that low-level workplace hostility enables similar behavior throughout the organization, eroding culture and productivity.
Ninety volunteers practiced negotiation with partners, and those who rated their initial negotiation partner as rude were more likely to be rated as rude by a subsequent partner.
This suggests that people assimilated and conveyed the first partner’s rudeness, and the effect persisted during the week between the first and second negotiations.
Foulk’s team presented staged interactions between an apologetic late-arriving participant and the study leader, who responded neutrally or rudely.
Then, volunteers distinguished real words from created “nonsense” words in a timed task.
Participants who observed the leader’s rude response more quickly identified actual rude words than participants who had observed the neutral interaction, suggesting that observing rude interactions “prime” people’s awareness and sensitivity to future uncivil interactions.
People who witnessed rudeness were more likely to be rude to others, confirming the powerful impact of observing physical on future behavior, demonstrated more than 50 years ago by Stanford’s Walter Mischel, Dorothea Ross and Sheila Ross.
This priming effect of rudeness was demonstrated in another of study by Foulk’s group.
Volunteers who watched a video of a rude workplace interaction, then answered a fictitious customer neutral-toned email were more likely to be hostile in their responses than those who viewed a polite interaction before responding.
“Rudeness will flavor the way you interpret ambiguous cues,” noted Foulk, who contends that workplace harshness makes employees less likely to give colleagues “the benefit of the doubt.”
The viral spread of even low-level rudeness can reduce collaboration and trust in the workplace.
-*How do you stop the spread of workplace incivility?
- Costs of Workplace Incivility
- “Emotional Contagion” in the Workplace through Social Observation, Social Media
- White Men can Lead in Improving Workplace Culture
- Ask a Narcissist
- Managing “Triadic Managers” and Navigating Office Politics by Becoming a Little Like Them
- Apologies: Repairing Relationships, Creating Interpersonal Peace
- Interpersonal Envy in Competitive Organizations and the “Search Inside Yourself” (SIY) Antidote