Workplace Incivility is Contagious, Damaging

James Bartlett

James Bartlett

Workplace incivility has negative consequences including reduced employee engagement and productivity, according to 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 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, leading to eroded 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.

Participants seemed to assimilate and convey the first partner’s rudeness.
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 completed a timed task to distinguish real words from nonsense words.

Participants who observed the leader’s rude response more quickly identified rude words in a task than participants who had observed the neutral interaction.
Observing rude interactions can “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 impact of observing aggression on future behavior, earlier demonstrated in often-cited “Bobo” experiments by Stanford’s Walter Mischel, Dorothea Ross and Sheila Ross.

Mischel's experiment with Bobo doll

Mischel’s experiment with Bobo doll

Foulk’s group also observed this priming effect when volunteers watched a video of a rude workplace interaction, then answered a fictitious customer neutral-toned email.
Participants’ 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 contended that harsh interactions can reduce collaboration and trust in the workplace.

-*How do you stop the spread of workplace incivility?

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©Kathryn Welds


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