Rudeness More Contagious Than Sneezes

Measles are contagious.  Sneezes are contagious.  But did you know rudeness is, too?

New research has shown that encountering rude behavior at work makes people more likely to perceive rudeness in later interactions, a University of Florida study shows. It simply makes us more likely to be impolite in return, spreading rudeness like a virus.

Who hasn't had a boss who called them out in a meeting for failing to do something?  Or praised someone else for something you worked on, too? 

Years ago I had a boss who was so hateful I broke out in a rash on vacation when I was away from him, probably the only time my body felt safe enough to express it.  He'd make me do things like pick up donuts for my peers or make copies of their work to be handed out at meetings.  He did everything he could to make me feel small and worthless.  And it worked.

It also made me want to do churlish things back.  Though I was a little too afraid to be rude right back to him, what I said behind his back would have made his ears burn.  I hated that man.  But it also made me hate my co-workers who were his favorites.  One time he took everyone in the department to lunch, including one of my good friends, except me.  It hurt more than I can say that not only did she go, but she didn't even tell me that she had been included until they all left, laughing and high-fiving each other. 

Years later, when we were meeting former co-workers for drinks, he sidled up to me and tried to be friendly.  I just turned away.

So I guess his being rude infected me, too.

“Part of the problem is that we are generally tolerant of these behaviors, but they’re actually really harmful,” quotes lead author Trevor Foulk, a doctoral student in management at the University of Florida's Warrington College of Business Administration. “Rudeness has an incredibly powerful negative effect on the workplace.” 

Rudeness directed at others can also prime our brains to detect discourtesy. Researchers asked a group of undergraduate students to identify which words in a list were real and which were nonsense words. Before the exercise began, participants saw one of two staged interactions between an apologetic late-arriving participant and the study leader. When the leader was rude to the latecomer, the participants identified rude words on the list as real words significantly faster than participants who had observed a neutral interaction.

Even worse, when study participants watched a video of a rude workplace interaction, then answered a fictitious customer email that was neutral in tone, they were more likely to be hostile in their responses than those who viewed a polite interaction before responding.

So what does this mean for us?  As for me, I believe in karma.  If I let a car merge in front of me, most likely another car will let me, a few minutes later.  And what would it be like if we lived in a world where everyone could get away with being rude to others?

I guess that's kind of the world we live in now.  

I never used to be this way (call it age?) but now, when I see someone struggling with a stroller trying to open a door, I rush over and open it for her.  I don't know which I like better, the thanks or the feeling that I get of generosity, of the kindness I extended to someone else.  It makes me feel good.

In the end, being rude to someone really only hurts us.  I don't know about you but I hate that feeling of  emptiness when I rush to get in line ahead of someone else at the grocery store.  Chances are, in the end, I'll drop back and let them go first.   In the end, it's selfishness.  It always feels better to be righteous than rude.


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