Rudeness Spreads like a Virus

According to new research, bad behaviour and rudeness are contagious and can spread from person to person. Here’s how to avoid this behavioural bug

Rudeness Spreads like a Virus

Just like the common cold, rude behaviour is contagious. So suggests a recent study that found that rudeness is something of a chain reaction. Researchers from the University of Florida observed that coworkers who experienced rude behaviour were more likely to behave rudely to someone else. The study followed 90 graduate students as they conducted exercises in business negotiation. The students who rated their first negotiating partner as being rude were more likely to later be rated as rude by others.

Think you’re too polite to spread rudeness? Not so. Researchers discovered that no one is immune to the cognitive effects of being slighted. What’s more, the study determined that those who simply observe rudeness second hand are also more likely to pass on the behaviour. Participants who watched a video of a rude workplace transaction were more likely to respond to a neutral customer-service email in a rude way. The reason: experiencing rudeness primes us to unconsciously see impolite behaviour in future situations, even when it’s not there.

‘Part of the problem is that we are generally tolerant of these behaviors, but they’re actually really harmful,’ says study author Trevor Foulk in a press release. ‘Rudeness has an incredibly powerful negative effect on the workplace.’

Workplace aggression can actually make you sick

According to the Canadian Institute of Health Research, 40 percent of Canadians experience bullying at work on a weekly basis. If the hostility is really bad, it can have a negative effect on your health ‘ 45 percent of bullying targets report stress-related health problems, including anxiety and depression.

Stop the spread of rudeness

If rudeness is a virus, think of clear communication as the vaccine. Make sure you fully understand a perceived slight from a usually civil coworker ‘ it could be that you’ve misinterpreted the conversation.

But defending yourself against an aggressive workplace bully can be a much more challenging problem to address. The Canadian Safety Council (CSC) reports that workplace bullies were reprimanded in only 23 percent of cases where the aggression was reported.

If bullying is affecting your health, your first course of action should be to seek professional counselling outside the workplace. A qualified psychologist or counsellor can help you determine the best way to deal with the problem.

The CSC suggests confronting the aggressor an in-person meeting, reporting the issue to senior management or through an internal complain process, and asking for witness accounts as strategies for dealing with bullying. Requesting mediation from a third party may be another way to diffuse tension. Whatever your plan, make sure to document the incidences as they happen so you have an accurate account of the bullying.