Rudeness is contagious in the workplace | Harvey Mackay

Germs can run rampant in a workplace, but so can another problem.  Researchers at the University of Florida, presenting their findings in the “Journal of Psychology,” say that rudeness can be contagious.

The researchers followed 90 graduate business students as they practiced negotiation techniques over seven weeks, switching partners several times.  Students who described a partner as rude were more likely to be considered rude themselves by subsequent partners more often than those who negotiated with people they felt were polite.  The researchers theorize that this suggests that experiencing rudeness may make people more inclined to engage in it themselves.

Do your best to stay polite and courteous all the times, and you may be able to stop an epidemic in your organization.

Workplace rudeness can be a serious problem.  It can bring down morale and lead to lost productivity.  Rudeness doesn’t just affect work; it can lead to lost customers. 

A study by the University of North Carolina (UNC) shows that 94 percent of the 775 people surveyed told someone else about their encounters with rude co-workers.  Those “someone elses” included peers, supervisors and even people they managed.

What kind of encounters caused such loss in productivity?  A few examples of rude behavior included:  nasty and demeaning notes, accusations about lacking knowledge, name-calling and challenging credibility in front of others.

The study concluded that employees spent more time disgruntled or worrying about the rude person and less time concentrating on their work.  These stats from the UNC survey support that conclusion:

  • 28 percent lost work time avoiding the rude person.
  • 58 percent lost work time worrying about the encounter or possible future interactions.
  • 37 percent reduced their commitment to the organization.
  • 22 percent decreased their effort at work.
  • 10 percent decreased the amount of time they spent at work.
  • 46 percent contemplated changing jobs to avoid the rude person.
  • 12 percent changed jobs to avoid the rude person.

This is why it is essential to squash rude behavior the minute it rears its ugly head.  Granted, the workplace is not always the easiest place in the world to get along with others. However, it is important to feel respected by others in the workplace.  This kind of healthy atmosphere almost always will increase productivity.

Here are some tips from the Mayo Clinic on how to deal with a co-worker who is rude to you:

  • Hold your tongue.  Take some time to cool off if someone is rude to you.  Don’t spout off something you will be sorry to have said later.  Don’t be sarcastic.  When someone says something rude to you, repeat it back to them in your own words and ask the person if that is what he or she is trying to say. 
  • Be direct.  Very calmly tell the other person how his or her comments or behaviors have made you feel.  Make your co-worker aware that it’s a problem for you.
  • Tell the person whose behavior is bothering you about it – not other people in the office.  Directing your comments to the person is the mature, adult way of handling the matter.  No one likes to be criticized publicly, especially before the person with the problem has let him or her know personally.
  • Find a solution.  Ask the person who was rude to you to help you solve the problem.  Ask for his or her ideas about the problem and what to do about it.
  • If nothing else helps, then go to your supervisor.  If you’ve truly run out of ideas of how to solve the problem, or if your co-worker is uncooperative, let your supervisor know.  He or she may know how to handle the situation or have experience dealing with similar problems in the past.

And speaking of supervisors, a study by the University of Florida found that even the best employees can become negative at work if they think their bosses have treated them with rudeness or are mean-spirited.  That means gossiping, pilfering, backstabbing and long lunch breaks can become the norm.

Managers have to set the tone, starting with the way they treat employees.  Management training needs to include an emphasis on treating employees with respect and refusing to accept rude behavior in the workplace.

Want to boil it down to a simple phrase?  Treat others the way you would like to be treated.

Mackay’s Moral:  Common courtesy should never be an uncommon practice.

About the author Harvey Mackay

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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