The (Workplace) Rudeness GermResearch Shows That Office Rudeness Can Be Contagious

A cartoon of various types of germs

Researchers from the University of Florida conducted a series of studies on organizational behavior. In a paper entitled “Catching Rudeness is Like Catching a Cold: The Contagion Effects of Low Intensity Negative Behaviors”, they proved exactly that. That rudeness spreads across the office like germs. One of the authors of the paper also wrote about their research for Quartz.

In a seven-week study, they had students engage in 11 negotiation exercises with various partners and note the level of rudeness. They found that if a student felt that their negotiating partner was rude, they were more likely to be rude to their next partner.

The key takeaways of the Studies:

  1. One rude interaction with a person can make us more likely to be rude to another person later.

  2. Rudeness experienced in prior negotiations caused participants to be rude in the next negotiation even if it was a week later.

  3. People that just saw rudeness became more likely to perceive rudeness in their environment, and respond with rudeness themselves.

  4. This manifests itself in how we choose to interpret actions or conversations with others. An environment we perceive as rude makes us more likely to take offense at jokes and respond with rudeness. An environment we perceive as friendly makes us more likely to view actions in a positive way and spread cheer instead of rudeness.

How Should We React?

We are getting better at addressing negative behavior in the workplace. Yet every corporate office has its share of rudeness, passive aggressiveness and corporate politics. So it’s worth examining whether we are the unwilling dormant carriers of the rudeness virus at work.

When you find yourself taking offense at something, pause for a minute and think of this study. Find yourself a “happy circuit-breaker” so you aren’t an unwilling participant in the contagion of rudeness.

If you’re a manager wondering how to address low morale — pay attention to these cues. Do you have a few employees that are creating a rude office environment? Can you create any processes that may lead to more pleasant interactions between coworkers?

Now that we know rudeness is a germ, let’s get our workplaces immunized.

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Advice Annie is a team of Tapwage writers and guest contributors who help answer career and workplace questions