Workplace Rudeness Spreads like a Virus

No one wants to go to work sick or catch a cold at the office, but if you have a rude coworker, you might catch their rudeness, as one recent study found. 

In the first part of the study, students were engaged in a business negotiation class.  Over the course of the semester, they would negotiate with each other. At the end of the semester, they had the opportunity to rate how "rude" their negotiation partners had been.

What did they find?

If a student rated their negotiation partner as rude, the partner in their next negotiation gave them a higher rudeness score. Furthermore,  participants did not only develop rudeness if someone was directly hostile to them; results suggested that people's rudeness scores increased if they simply witnessed rude behaviour. 

Why did this contagious effect happen?

Apparently, when you experience rudeness, you become more aware of it in your environment. For example,  if a co-worker tells you “Hey, nice shoes!”, you can either interpret this comment as a compliment or back-handed insult. Our thoughts and perceptions have a direct influence on both our mood and our behaviours. This study suggested that people who have been on the receiving end of rudeness will tend to interpret things more negatively, reacting to interactions as if they were rude. Yet, unlike a common cold, which usually has only short-term impacts on an individual's work performance, rudeness has severe consequences to individuals' mental health, team dynamics and organizations as a whole. 

So what can we do? Did you experience rudeness today? What do you do to reduce or prevent rudeness in the workplace? Do not allow yourself to be infected!

Read more about the study here:

Foulk, T., Woolum, A., & Erez, A. (2015). Catching Rudeness Is Like Catching a Cold: The Contagion Effects of Low-Intensity Negative Behaviors.