The Realities of Rudeness

Rudeness, whether verbal or behavioral, greatly contributes to deteriorating team spirit and poor performance. And it’s not always blatant or obvious. I see this when I go into companies for the work I do.
Joel H. Neuman, director of the Center for Applied Management at the State University of New York at New Paltz, cites several common examples:

  • Talking about someone behind his or her back
  • Interrupting others when they’re speaking or working
  • Flaunting status or authority; acting in a condescending manner
  • Belittling someone’s opinion to others
  • Being late to meetings; failing to return phone calls or respond to memos
  • Giving others the silent treatment
  • Insults, yelling and shouting
  • Verbal forms of sexual harassment
  • Staring, dirty looks or other negative eye contact

While it’s truly overbearing to work for a boss who barks orders and belittles employees, most rude behaviors occur between coworkers. The more subtle and malicious forms of rudeness include gossiping, backstabbing, spreading rumors and sabotaging others’ work.
Simply witnessing incivility has negative consequences. In one experiment, published in The Price of Incivility, a January-February 2013 Harvard Business Review article by Professors Christine Porath and Christine Pearson, people who had observed poor behavior performed 20% worse on word puzzles. Witnesses to incivility were less likely than others to help out, even when a colleague had no apparent connection to the uncivil act. Only 25% of those who witnessed incivility volunteered to help (compared to 51% of those who saw nothing).
People are 30% less creative when they’re treated rudely, according to an experiment conducted by Amir Erez, a University of Florida management professor. Subjects produced 25% fewer ideas, and their suggestions tended to be less original. When asked about uses for a brick, their responses were logical, but not particularly imaginative: “Build a house,” “build a wall” and “build a school.” More creative ideas originated from participants who had been treated civilly: “Sell the brick on eBay,” “use it as a goalpost for a street soccer game “hang it on a museum wall and call it abstract art” and “decorate it like a pet and give it to a kid as a present.”
Think about it. When wild ideas become the target of sarcasm, people are less willing to go out on a limb. Creativity suffers. Humor can become a form of rudeness. What do you think? Does this happen in your organization?

The Rampant Rise of Rudeness

Are we letting our ‘frank discussions’ veer into rudeness and incivility at work?

“These may not be the best of times, and these may not be the worst of times, but for sheer rudeness, these times beat the dickens out of most times.” ~ Roger McElvey, ‘Mr. Manners,’ Men’s Health, May 1995

While I see plenty of leadership development programs that propose social and emotional intelligence, we’re not doing so well in our workplace interactions.
Over the last 14 years, thousands of workers have been polled on how they’re treated on the job – and a whopping 98% have reported experiencing uncivil behavior. In 2011, half said they were treated rudely at least once a week, up from 25% in 1998.
These startling facts were published in The Price of Incivility, a January-February 2013 Harvard Business Review article by Professors Christine Porath and Christine Pearson.
Most managers know incivility is wrong, but some fail to recognize its tangible costs. Those at the receiving end of rudeness often punish their offenders and the organization, although most hide or bury their feelings and don’t view themselves as vengeful.
After polling 800 managers and employees in 17 industries, Porath and Pearson learned how people’s reactions play out. Among workers who have been on the receiving end of incivility:

  • 48% intentionally decreased their work effort.
  • 47% intentionally decreased the time spent at work.
  • 38% intentionally decreased the quality of their work.
  • 80% lost work time worrying about the incident.
  • 63% lost work time avoiding the offender.
  • 66% said their performance declined.
  • 78% said their commitment to the organization declined.
  • 12% said they left their job because of the uncivil treatment.
  • 25% admitted to taking their frustration out on customers.

Incivility is expensive, yet few organizations recognize or take action to curtail it. This leads to several possible outcomes:

  • Incivility chips away at the bottom line. Nearly everyone who experiences workplace incivility responds negatively – in some cases, with overt retaliation.
  • Employees are less creative when they feel disrespected. When they’re fed up, they leave.
  • About half deliberately decrease their efforts or lower the quality of their work.
  • Customer relationships are damaged.

How’s it going in your office? I hear some incredible stories in the work I do with clients. It’s one thing to be open and honest, but there’s a line that often gets crossed, especially in the heat of things. And it’s often not the boss, but among co-workers that I hear about rudeness. I’d love to hear what you think. Leave a comment.

In Your Customers’ Shoes

What’s the best way to keep an eye on what your customers need and want? I’ve been reading a lot about empathy in Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy, by Dev Pataik and Peter Mortensen. The authors make a case for better customer contact in business strategy planning.
Modern technological improvements in data-mining provide strategic plans, sales forecasts and manufacturing reports. Companies become so dependent on these models that they can lose touch with reality.
Firms use all of this information to create maps – market segmentations, research reports – of how customers use their products. But these maps are poor substitutes for actual human contact. Many managers make critical decisions based on numbers, without any personal feeling for the people they serve. They fail to spot new opportunities and innovative solutions for customers.
Nike has built an entire culture that celebrates the potential for athletic greatness in each of us. The company’s headquarters resemble an athletic center; its employees take breaks for running, basketball and soccer games. The people who develop running shoes are usually runners themselves. They possess a basic intuition that cannot be captured in any market report.
Other major companies have learned the value of empathy:

  • IBM helps customers keep their information technology up and running by staying as close to them as possible.
  • Microsoft succeeded with the Xbox because it was designed for gamers by developers who love games.
  • Apple makes computers, iPhones, iPads and iPods for people who covet cool, easy-to-use products. The company’s organizational culture reflects its customers’ lifestyles.

Business happens on the street, in stores and in homes. When companies have a real connection with end users, they come up with better product designs. Harnessing the power of empathy closes the gap between abstract data and reality.
Consumers don’t buy goods based on demographics. Nobody, for example, opens his wallet because he’s a 25- to 30-year-old white male with a college degree. As people go about their daily lives, problems arise that beg for solutions. Consumers are willing to spend money on solutions that will get the job done. Your ability to empathize with them and anticipate their needs determines whether your product or service will sink or swim in the marketplace.
It’s worth noting that Sony co-founder Akio Morita and Apple’s Steve Jobs were famous for never commissioning market research. Instead, they’d just walk around the world watching what people did. They put themselves in their future customers” shoes.
Think about it. What would be some ways you could observe actual clients using your company’s products or services? How could you walk in their shoes? I’d love to hear from you.