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Balancing act: Rudeness rules in the workplace

Published: Tuesday, March 26 2013 8:00 a.m. MDT

Rudeness in the workplace is on the rise, according to a recent study by professors from Georgetown University and Thunderbird School of Management.

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In one of her early journalism jobs, my wife worked with another reporter who consistently made rude, snide comments about my wife's religion.

My wife tried to avoid this other reporter, but the office was small, and it was difficult. Since she is not one to suffer such injustices for long without defending herself or her beliefs, the constant needling eventually led to a confrontation.

As a result, the other reporter "went home crying, and I didn't feel very Christian," my wife recalled recently. "It was harder to work with (the other reporter) after that, and I didn't want to do things for (that person).

"It was a tiny office, so it was very collaborative, and everyone helped each other with stuff, but it got to the point that I didn't want to help (the other reporter) because I didn't know when I was going to hear a rude comment."

Most of us probably can remember a time when we were the target of similar rude comments at work, or when we heard offensive barbs aimed at a colleague. However, I had not seen any research on the prevalence of rudeness in the workplace until I ran across a recent press release from the Thunderbird School of Global Management.

According to research by professors Christine Porath of Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business and Christine Pearson of Thunderbird School of Management, half of the workers they surveyed in 2011 said they were treated rudely at least once a week, up from a quarter in 1998.

And not only is rudeness at work on the rise, according to the Porath and Pearson poll of 800 managers and employees in 17 industries, but it also has tangible costs to business.

According to the press release, the two professors found out that, among workers who have been on the receiving end of incivility:

48 percent intentionally decreased work effort.

47 percent intentionally decreased the time they spent at work.

38 percent intentionally decreased the quality of their work.

80 percent lost work time worrying about the incident.

63 percent lost work time avoiding the offender.

66 percent said that their performance declined.

78 percent said that their commitment to the organization declined.

12 percent said that they had left a job because of uncivil treatment.

25 percent admitted to taking their frustration out on customers.

Other experiments have led to similar results. According to the Thunderbird press release, an experiment conducted with Amir Erez, a professor of management at the University of Florida, found that participants who were treated rudely by other subjects were 30 percent less creative than others in the study.

Another survey of 244 consumers found that "disrespectful behavior by employees makes people uncomfortable, and they’re quick to walk out without making a purchase," according to the Thunderbird release.

While I wasn't shocked that half of people had been treated rudely at work — frankly, I figured that number would be higher — some of these other statistics did surprise me at first glance.

However, as I thought back on my own run-ins with office rudeness over the years, I can see that I exhibited some of the same responses when I was on the receiving end. My most common reaction would be avoiding the rude person, and depending on who that person was, such avoidance definitely could harm my work performance.

But beyond thinking about incidents in which others were rude to me, I decided what I really needed to consider were the times that I was the offender.

I think I'm usually a fairly kind and patient person, but I'm sure I've been rude to other people in the office on occasion. Actually, I would guess that only a few people make it through their entire work lives without doing or saying something that offends a colleague.

So the question becomes, how can we do better?

While it seems like a simplistic answer, I firmly believe that committing ourselves to following the Golden Rule — treating others as we would like to be treated — is the key to improving civility in our work lives and at home.

We all know this is what we should do, but sometimes when we're tired or cranky or busy, we forget. At least, I do.

How about you? Have you ever been the victim of office rudeness, or have you been a perpetrator? How did you or your victim respond to the offensive behavior?

Starting now, I'm going to begin the fight against giving offense in the office by working to defeat my own rude tendencies. If we all make such an effort, our offices, homes and communities will be more pleasant places.

Are you ready to commit to this battle against boorish behavior? Or, do you have other ideas for enhancing civility in the workplace? If so, let me know, and I'll share some of your responses in a future column.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.

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