Single Exposure Can Taint Perceptions
Workers who witness incivility in the morning often spend the rest of the day wearing "rude-colored glasses" that taint their perceptions of the world. New research forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology shows that a single exposure to unkind or thoughtless behavior can trigger the effect.
"You don't even have to be the target of the bad behavior," says Trevor Foulk, management professor at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business and co-author of the paper. "Rudeness is contagious and can spread to uninvolved third parties."
The paper, written with Andy Woolum at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and Amir Erez and Klodiana Lanaj at the University of Florida, draws conclusions from daily self-reporting of 81 business professionals exposed to video simulations over a 10-day period.
Although many people think about rudeness in clear terms — the incident either happened or it didn't — the authors explain that most social interactions at work are somewhat ambiguous and open to interpretation. Most observers would agree that sending an abrasive email or ridiculing a colleague in a public meeting counts as rudeness. But what about leaving a mess in the breakroom for somebody else to clean up, failing to say "hi" in the hallway or neglecting to share credit for group accomplishments?
"Witnessing rudeness can activate a rudeness filter, and this activation can bias subsequent judgments," Foulk says. "We call it 'rude-colored glasses' because the observed event changes the way people perceive their social interactions throughout the day." Once people perceive rudeness, they typically throw up defense mechanisms that lead to psychological withdrawal and lower performance.
The paper, Rude Color Glasses: The Contaminating Effects of Witnessed Morning Rudeness on Perceptions and Behaviors Throughout the Workday, also measures the effect of core self-evaluation, a trait that makes some people less susceptible to the negative effects of rudeness. It involves the ability to show kindness to oneself during moments of self-reflection and internal dialogue.
People with this trait feel confident, successful and satisfied with their own performance, and they project these attitudes onto others — seeing benign intentions where others see rudeness. "People who score high on the core self-evaluation scale have higher tolerance or immunity to rudeness," Foulk says.
Read more: Rude Color Glasses: The Contaminating Effects of Witnessed Morning Rudeness on Perceptions and Behaviors Throughout the Workday is featured in the Journal of Applied Psychology.