Workplace Rudeness is Contagious


Rudeness screws with workplace productivity, so it’d be good to stop.


Rudeness spreads like a disease, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology.


In one experiment, researchers had ninety graduate students practice negotiations with each other. They did a whole series of exercises and had to rate each other.

In another test, forty-seven participants had to look at a list of words and identify which were real and which were nonsense. However, prior to the test, an apologetic latecomer would show up and interact with the study leader. Some participants saw the study leader respond rudely, others saw a more conciliatory scene.

In the last test, participants had to either watch a video of workplace rudeness or a more polite interaction, and then they had to respond to a customer email that was neutral in tone.


In the first test, people who rated their initial negotiation partner as rude were more likely to themselves be rated rude by subsequent partners. In other words, rudeness can be passed on.

In the second test, participants who saw the rude interaction were faster at identifying real word, so long as they had to do with rudeness. In other words, witnessing rudeness makes one more likely to spot rudeness.

In the final test, those who watched an instance of workplace rudeness were more likely to interpret the neutral email as rude than those who watched the more polite interaction. In other words, exposure to rudeness makes people more likely to see rudeness when there’s none there.

The Takeaway

It’s worth bearing in mind that, while you’re seething after experiencing some rudeness, you’re pretty likely to pass it on. It’s possible that knowing is enough to break the cycle—but maybe not.



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