The Realities of Rudeness

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Rudeness, whether verbal or behavioral, greatly contributes to deteriorating team spirit and poor performance. And it’s not always blatant or obvious. I see this when I go into companies for the work I do.

Joel H. Neuman, director of the Center for Applied Management at the State University of New York at New Paltz, cites several common examples:

•   Talking about someone behind his or her back
•   Interrupting others when they’re speaking or working
•   Flaunting status or authority; acting in a condescending manner
•   Belittling someone’s opinion to others
•   Being late to meetings; failing to return phone calls or respond to memos
•   Giving others the silent treatment
•   Insults, yelling and shouting
•   Verbal forms of sexual harassment
•   Staring, dirty looks or other negative eye contact

While it’s truly overbearing to work for a boss who barks orders and belittles employees, most rude behaviors occur between coworkers. The more subtle and malicious forms of rudeness include gossiping, backstabbing, spreading rumors and sabotaging others’ work.

Simply witnessing incivility has negative consequences. In one experiment, published in The Price of Incivility, a January-February 2013 Harvard Business Review article by Professors Christine Porath and Christine Pearson, people who had observed poor behavior performed 20% worse on word puzzles. Witnesses to incivility were less likely than others to help out, even when a colleague had no apparent connection to the uncivil act. Only 25% of those who witnessed incivility volunteered to help (compared to 51% of those who saw nothing).

People are 30% less creative when they’re treated rudely, according to an experiment conducted by Amir Erez, a University of Florida management professor. Subjects produced 25% fewer ideas, and their suggestions tended to be less original. When asked about uses for a brick, their responses were logical, but not particularly imaginative: “Build a house,” “build a wall” and “build a school.” More creative ideas originated from participants who had been treated civilly: “Sell the brick on eBay,” “use it as a goalpost for a street soccer game,” “hang it on a museum wall and call it abstract art” and “decorate it like a pet and give it to a kid as a present.”

Think about it. When wild ideas become the target of sarcasm, people are less willing to go out on a limb. Creativity suffers. Humor can become a form of rudeness. What do you think? Does this happen in your organization?

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