It’s certainly annoying to interact with a rude co-worker. But even worse: That person’s behavior can make you ruder, too.
Uncivil behavior is contagious, a new study found. The report, in the Journal of Applied Psychology, claims that your jerky tone of voice or snappy retort can actually negatively impact your fellow desk jockeys long after you leave the office.
Researchers from the University of Florida asked study participants to engage in 11 simulated negotiation exercises with partners over a seven-week period. They found that a subject who perceived rudeness in one interaction was subsequently perceived as rude by his next partner. The effects lasted for up to a week.
Study co-author Trevor Foulk explained on Gizmodo:
What is so scary about this effect is that it’s an automatic process—it takes place in a part of your brain that you are not aware of, can’t stop, and can’t control.
So what if your mean co-workers are rubbing off on you? Previous studiessuggest that witnessing rudeness is correlated with poorer performance on both creative and rote tasks. That means that witnessing—and internalizing—rude behavior could snag workplace productivity, in addition to making the perpetrator the least popular guy in the office.
The long-term effects can be pretty dramatic. An article in Harvard Business Review summarized researchers’ findings after polling 800 managers and employees across 17 industries. Of those who reported bearing the brunt of rude behavior, 66 percent admitted that their work suffered, 80 percent lost work time fretting over the incident, and 12 percent left their company.
So do your best to avoid workplace jerks, or risk becoming one of them.