Science often confirms what we already suspect anecdotally. For example, that rudeness affects our thinking and performance. However, what science adds to our intuitive awareness can be very illuminating, particularly in the case of rudeness. A recent study shows how rudeness affects people’s performance, not only on routine tasks, but also on creative ones, and how it affects the likelihood that victims of rudeness will help others.
In this study by Porath and Erez (2007), three different forms of rudeness (rudeness instigated by a direct authority figure, rudeness delivered by a stranger, and imagining a situation in which a perpetrator was rude) converged to produce the same effects.
The researchers used different interventions to make their experimental subjects feel as if they had been victims of rudeness â€“ having the experimenter berate them for being late, having an apparent stranger berate students who couldnâ€™t find the right room (â€œCanâ€™t you read? â€¦ I am not a secretary here, I am a busy professorâ€), and in the final experiment, just thinking of a time when they were victims of rudeness.
Results from this study showed that rudeness reduced performance on routine tasks as well as creative tasks. In addition, the researchers found that rude behaviour decreased helpfulness. In the experiment where the rude professor berated the lost student, a few minutes later when the experimenter (who apparently had no connection to the rude professor) accidentally dropped a pile of books, only 24 percent of the insulted students helped pick up the books, but 73 percent of those who were not insulted volunteered to lend a hand.
From this and other research, it is clear that rudeness, either from a colleague or stranger, or even just thinking about it, disrupts our thinking processes to make us less productive and helpful. While the outcome of rudeness may not concern a stranger too much, it should those who are directly responsible for an employee’s productivity. So, the next time you feel like berating someone with the view of increasing their productivity, the result may be the opposite of what you expect.
Porath, C. & Erez, A. (2007). Does rudeness really matter? The effects of rudeness on task performance and helpfulness. Academy of Management Journal, 50, in-press.