The Hidden Costs Of Rudeness

We all know rudeness is an unpleasant aspect of life, did you also know it has a cost attached? Two researchers, Porath and Erez (2011), have spent years exploring the effect of rudeness on people at work, this is what they have found:

Between 1998 and 2005 the percentage of employees who reported experiencing rudeness once or more in a week doubled from almost 25% to almost 50%. Indeed in 2005 25% of employees reported experiencing rudeness at least once a day.

Surveys reveal that after experiencing rudeness most people lose time and focus, make efforts to avoid the person, work less and slack off more, and think more about leaving the organization.

Experiments by Porath and Erez have demonstrated direct adverse effects of experiencing or even just observing rudeness on cognitive performance e.g. problem-solving, flexibility of thinking, creativity and helpfulness. Experiencing rudeness also increases a propensity to aggressive and violent thoughts and actions.

In addition 94% of people get even with the rude person, or with their organization (88%)

It seems that ‘processing’ the rude encounter engages brain resources so that less is available for attention and memory, making us temporarily ‘less clever’.

These affects occur even in a culture of habitual rudeness, in other words even if a level of rudeness or incivility is normal in your organization it doesn’t mean people are inured against the effects.

Rudeness has a contagion effect: it makes us less likely to help people not even involved in the incident, and to be ruder and more aggressive than we might have been.


So, a culture of rudeness in an organization has hidden costs of:

Reduced performance

Poorer problem solving

Rigidity of thinking

Less ‘citizenship’ behaviour e.g. general helpfulness

Reduced creativity

People avoiding contact with certain others (who might have information they need)

Heighten tendencies to aggressive words or even actions

‘vendettas’ of getting even being played out in the organization


The effect of this on suppliers and customer relationships, as well as internal relations, is not hard to imagine.


Politeness pays

Interestingly Kim Cameron and others at the University of Michigan have been examining the effect of ‘virtuous behaviour’ on employees and organizations. They have found a similar but polar opposite effect, that is, the more people experience virtuous behaviour from others – helpfulness, forgiveness, generosity, courage, honesty support etc. – or indeed just witness it, the more likely they are to demonstrate such behaviour themselves. Such behaviour also has the effect of raising levels of ‘feeling good’ which is strongly associated with flexible and complex thinking, creativity, good team work and so on.


How much are poor manners costing your organization? And what can you do about it?

1. Create a culture of civility and politeness, led right from the top

2. Treat ‘manner’ of management as a performance issue, as well as outcomes

3. Keep stress levels down for people – stressed people are more likely to ‘lash out’ at others

4. Have a code of conduct that makes it clear that people have a right to be treated in a civil manner, and act on complaints

5. Taking bullying seriously

6. Help those who have a hot head to develop compensatory tactics, particularly the ability to eat humble pie and to seek forgiveness after an uncontrolled outburst

7. Encourage managers to recognise power as a privilege, not a stick with which to beat others

8. Beware those who are deferential to those above them and demonic to those below

9. Emphasis that difficult issues can be tackled without resorting to shouting or belittling, and model how

10. Beware of the hidden costs of the ‘high performer’ who is also known to be consistently aggressive and rude to his or her staff: the cost of the means might actually outweigh the benefits of the ends


Further resources

Christine L Porath and Amir Erez (2011) How rudeness takes it toll. The Psychologist Vol 24, No 7

Cameron K (2008) Positive Leadership: strategies for extraordinary performance. Berrett-Koehler. San Franciso

Lewis S (2011) Positive Psychology at Work. Wiley


Other Resources

More on using Appreciative Inquiry and other positive psychology techniques at work can be found in Sarah’s book Positive Psychology at Work.

See more about Leadership and Performance Management in the  Knowledge Warehouse.

Appreciating Change Can Help

Appreciating Change is skilled and experienced at supporting leaders in working in this challenging, exciting and productive way with their organizations. Find out more by looking at how we help with LeadershipCulture change and with employee Engagement.

For further information on these alternative approaches to change, please contact us or phone 07973 782 715