Workplace Incivility is Contagious, Damaging

James Bartlett

James Bartlett

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.

Trevor Foulk

Trevor Foulk

Rudeness in the workplace is also contagious and leads people to be vigilant for subsequent slights, 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.

Andrew Woolum

Andrew Woolum

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.

Amir Erez

Amir Erez

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 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.
This suggests that observing rude interactions “prime” people’s awareness and sensitivity to future uncivil interactions.

Walter Mischel

Walter Mischel

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.

Mischel's experiment with Bobo doll

Mischel’s experiment with Bobo doll

This priming effect of rudeness was demonstrated in another of study by Foulk’s group.
Volunteers watched a video of a rude workplace interaction, then answered a fictitious customer neutral-toned email.
Their responses were more likely to be hostile 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?

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Twitter: @kathrynwelds


©Kathryn Welds


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