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Rudeness Spreads Like Flu in the Workplace

Update Date: Jul 16, 2015 08:13 PM EDT

Rudeness spreads like flu in the workplace, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Florida found that people are more likely to perceive rudeness in social interactions if they've encountered rude behavior at work. This heightened sensitivity to rudeness then boosts the likelihood of people becoming impolite in return, according to researchers.

"When you experience rudeness, it makes rudeness more noticeable," lead author Trevor Foulk, a doctoral student in management at UF's Warrington College of Business Administration, said in a news release. "You'll see more rudeness even if it's not there."

"Part of the problem is that we are generally tolerant of these behaviors, but they're actually really harmful," Foulk said. "Rudeness has an incredibly powerful negative effect on the workplace."

The study involved 90 graduate students who were asked to practice negotiation with classmates. Study results revealed that students who rated their initial negotiation partner as rude were more likely to be rated rude by a subsequent negotiation partner.

"That tells us that rudeness will flavor the way you interpret ambiguous cues," Foulk said.

"You might go your whole career and not experience abuse or aggression in the workplace, but rudeness also has a negative effect on performance," he concluded. "It isn't something you can just turn your back on. It matters."

The findings were published June 29 in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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