The True Cost of Rude Behavior at Work

Rudeness at work does real harm, but there are steps that you can take to protect yourself.

negative feedback rapresentated by emoticons on green chalk board

In a recent article in Harvard Business Review, Georgetown University management professor Christine Porath reviews her 20 years of research into rudeness in the workplace — “from outright nastiness and intentional undermining to ignoring people’s opinions to checking email during meetings” — before sharing tactics for minimizing the effects of professional incivility. Here’s an excerpt:

Just as medicine is shifting from a focus on fighting illness to one on promoting wellness, research in my field — organizational behavior — has begun to discover that working to improve your wellbeing in the office, rather than trying to change the offender or the corrosive working relationship, is the most effective remedy for incivility.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t report a rude or bullying colleague to HR, or try to manage conflict directly. But a more sustainable way to deal with bad behavior is to make yourself impervious to it — or at least a lot less vulnerable. To do that, it’s helpful to look at what we know about thriving — the psychological state in which a sense of vitality and self-improvement fortifies people against the vicissitudes of life.

In my research, I have found that thriving people are healthier, more resilient, and better able to focus on their work. They are buffered against distraction, stress, and negativity. In a study of six organizations across industries, employees characterized as high thrivers burned out less than half as often as their peers. They were 52 percent more confident in themselves and their ability to take control of a situation, and their performance suffered 34 percent less after an unpleasant incident.

If you’re thriving, you’re less likely to worry about a hit or take it as a personal affront, more immune to the waves of emotion that follow, and more focused on navigating toward your goal. Yet despite these obvious advantages, fewer than half the people I’ve surveyed focus on themselves and work to foster a thriving mentality after a brush with incivility. Rarely do they consider that the antidote might be totally disconnected from the incident at hand.

Convene Editors