Does Rudeness Really Matter?

Christine PorathIn three experimental studies, Christine L. Porath provides an empirical test of how rudeness affects task performance and helpfulness. Different forms of rudeness—rudeness instigated by a direct authority figure, rudeness delivered by a third party, and imagined rudeness—converged to produce the same effects. Results from these studies showed that rudeness reduced performance on routine tasks as well as on creative tasks. Christine and her associate Amir Erez also found that rude behavior decreased helpfulness. “We examined the processes that mediated the rudeness-performance relationship and found evidence that disruption to cognitive processes fully mediated that relationship.”

According to Ms. Porath’s recent NYTimes article, “In a study in a biotechnology company, those seen as civil were twice as likely to be viewed as leaders….Civility elicits perceptions of warmth and competence….these two traits drive our impressions of others, accounting for more than 90 percent of the variation in the positive or negative impressions we form of those around us. These impressions dictate whether people will trust you, build relationships with you, follow you and support you.”

The article goes on to say that “researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership have shown that the No. 1 characteristic associated with an executive’s failure is an insensitive, abrasive or bullying style.

Across many decisions — whom to hire, who will be most effective in teams, who will be able to be influential — civility affects judgments and may shift the balance toward those who are respectful.

Given the enormous cost of incivility, it should not be ignored. We all need to reconsider our behavior. You are always in front of some jury. In every interaction, you have a choice: Do you want to lift people up or hold them down?”