Rudeness Wrecks Everything

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According to an article recently published in the New York Times, rudeness, even just “slight incivility”, has a negative impact upon those exposed to it. The article concerns a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics by several co-authors from the Coller School of Management at Tel Aviv University and the Bnai Zion Medical Center.

The objectives of the study were:
  • “Rudeness is routinely experienced by medical teams. We sought to explore the impact of rudeness on medical teams’ performance and test interventions that might mitigate its negative consequences.”
The conclusions were:
  • “Rudeness has robust, deleterious effects on the performance of medical teams. Moreover, exposure to rudeness debilitated the very collaborative mechanisms recognized as essential for patient care and safety. Interventions focusing on teaching medical professionals to implicitly avoid cognitive distraction such as CBM may offer a means to mitigate the adverse consequences of behaviors that, unfortunately, cannot be prevented.”

I also read an article by Valeria Maltoni entitled “Alain de Botton’s Ten Virtues of the Modern Age.Alain de Botton is, among other things, a prolific author and founder of the School of Life. (I highly recommend following these links and finding out more…). The reason this article resonated so much with me as I thought about the rudeness study is the potential solution the Virtues present to the problem of rudeness in our societies.

Unfortunately, our society has begun to prize rudeness over civility. While the most rabid examples can easily be found or recalled from the past election season here in the US, it’s been around for a very long time. We justify it by saying that we’re just “being real”. I have witnessed numerous scenes in corporate meetings and relationships where the cutting remark or put-down was used to discredit someone’s idea, derail a conversation, or redirect a discussion that wasn’t going someone’s way. One of several articles I published reviewed how this can severely impact innovation and communication, making success or even progress highly unlikely.

The study cited earlier showed that the rude remark has a global negative effect on physical performance, cognitive performance, communications and teamwork for a significant time after the comment is made. While this has potentially life-ending effects in health care, was does this imply for business?

First there is the external-facing piece, with two branches.
  • Branch 1 is when someone, a customer or a prospect (or a comment on your blog, Facebook post or a review) makes a rude comment. It could be about your product or service, about your business or industry, or even about you personally. I see this time and again with my clients. Even if you feel that you have a “thick skin” and you can get past it, it can affect you negatively in some way. Perhaps your response (or lack of response) suffers. Perhaps, if you’re in the midst of a meeting or service delivery, it throws you. You have to devote cognitive resources to absorbing and, hopefully, getting past or dealing with the comment, and so those resources are no longer available for you to use to effectively finish that meeting or complete the service delivery in your normal high-value manner.
  • Branch 2 is when you make what you feel is a “harmless, ‘honest’ remark” in the hearing of a client or even just someone who happens to be near by. The reputation of you and your company is at stake, and you just gave these people a reason to think less of you, at best, or never do business with you and bad mouth you to others forever, at worst. Neither of these is a good thing.
The internal-facing piece has to do with your team and the professionals you partner with to do business. As noted in the New York Times article, the rude comment, while coming from someone outside of the team, had a significant negative effect on their overall performance, making them much more likely to make mistakes and fail. If the comment comes from someone within the team, it will have the same, or worse, affect. Being rude to each other on a team is a great way to fail, if that’s what you’re trying to get to…..most teams aren’t.

But in heated moments, it is much too easy in our culture at present to supposedly “tell it like it is” and deride any attempt at consideration and empathy as “coddling a snowflake”.

It’s sad, really…

Our culture is presently encouraging a much more coarse standard of conversation (which, of course, cuts real conversation at the knees…), hiding behind supposed “honesty”, or even a proud stance of not being “politically correct”. If you really ARE trying to hurt a team or individual, or wreck a customer relationship, then you are being honest.

If that’s not your actual, conscious goal, why do it?


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