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Why being respectful to your coworkers is good for business

Looking to get ahead in your career? Start by being respectful to your coworkers, says leadership researcher Christine Porath. In this science-backed talk, she shares surprising insights about the costs of rudeness and shows how little acts of respect can boost your professional success and your company’s bottom line. In 2011, half of those surveyed said they experienced rudeness at least once a week, compared to only a quarter in 1998. Rudeness has a bad effect on the financial results of the company. Almost everyone who is treated impolitely at work reacts negatively to this, sometimes openly responding in kind. If people feel that they are not respected, they lose their incentive to be creative; many, not wanting to endure rudeness, leave. Approximately half in a similar situation deliberately works carelessly or less qualitatively. In addition, rudeness scares away customers. Our research shows that if people feel that employees of a company are behaving inappropriately (even in relation to each other, and not to customers), they are unlikely to become its customers. If a person witnesses a single skirmish, his negative impression extends to the entire staff, organization and even the brand. In the course of the study, we interviewed line employees, managers, heads of human resources departments, presidents and CEOs. We distributed questionnaires, conducted experiments, meetings and interviews. We were interested in the circumstances under which all these people-doctors, lawyers, judges, law enforcement officers, architects, engineers, consultants, and trainers-more than 14,000 people in the United States and Canada-were rude and what they did. We wanted to understand how widespread rudeness is at work, what are its types, causes, costs, and how to deal with it. As a result, we came to this conclusion: impoliteness is costly, but organizations usually do not notice it and do not even try to do something. In this article, we share our findings, detail the costs, and suggest some countermeasures.

But first, let’s talk about the forms impoliteness takes at work.

Manifestations of rudeness Everyone knows that there are “great leaders”; many even know them personally. When you turn work into a fighting ring, people experience severe stress. One of our survey participants talked about a manager who repeatedly insulted his subordinates, belittled them and reprimanded them for mistakes they did not make. The manager was sometimes rude to customers. In the end, the employee can’t stand it and complains to the HR department of the manager, and it turns out that he is not the first at all. A few months later, that manager is selected as the employee of the year. Three days later, the employee who complained had a heart attack. Although this story has an atypical ending, the extreme grossness itself is surprisingly common. We heard a story about a chief who did not hesitate to insult people when talking to them. But, as you know, there is a blessing in disguise: dislike for the leader rallied employees, and when the company collapsed in the late 1990s, they formed a network that continues to thrive today. Sometimes, rudeness strikes, like a disease, an entire department. Jennifer worked in an industry that attracted a lot of young professionals willing to work hard for a penny, just to be creative. But, as you know, there is a blessing in disguise: dislike for the leader rallied employees, and when the company collapsed in the late 1990s, they formed a network that continues to thrive today. Sometimes, rudeness strikes, like a disease, an entire department. Jennifer worked in an industry that attracted a lot of young professionals willing to work hard for a penny, just to be creative. At the same time, it was believed that newcomers were indebted to everyone. Slamming doors, gossip, inequality, blatant disrespect for other people’s time – such was the working atmosphere. Many years have passed since then, but Jennifer still remembers with horror the boss’s cry: “You have a mistake here!” – and then she just overlooked a typo in a memo. Many junior employees left. But those that remained, over time, became “grandfathers” and treated newcomers in the same way as they had once been treated. Fran was a top manager for a global consumer goods company. Despite the downturn in the economy, the corporation’s profit grew every quarter. One day, a newcomer, Joe, appeared in the upper management and declared war on Fran. For six months, Fran went out of her way to save a business that was threatened not so much by stagnation as by a new employee. She didn’t understand why she was being picked on. In the end she left, not for another job, but, as she put it, to save her soul. Disrespect for others may not be so obvious, and the reason is often not in malicious intent, but in simple thoughtlessness. Imagine a manager who sends emails during a presentation, or a boss who teases employees, hurting them in the process, or a department head who takes all the credit for himself and blames his subordinates for all the failures. Such seemingly trifles can be worse than open rudeness: they are not so noticeable, they are easier to overlook, but, accumulating, they demoralize people.

The cost of being rude

Being rude is bad, and many bosses will agree with that. But not everyone understands that the costs of rudeness are quite material. Victims of abuse tend to punish the perpetrators and the organization, although many hide their feelings or retaliate unconsciously. By interviewing 800 managers and employees from 17 industries, we found out exactly how they react to unfriendly treatment. So, the participants in our survey, who were treated ugly:

  • Deliberately began to work less intensively (48%)
  • Deliberately began to work less (47%)
  • Deliberately began to work worse (38%)
  • Experienced their resentment instead of working (80%)
  • Hiding from the offender instead of working (63%)
  • Admitted that their productivity had fallen (66%)
  • Admitted that they were disappointed in the company (78%)
  • Admitted that they left their job because of rough treatment (12%)
  • Admitted that they took out their irritation on customers (25%). Experiments and conversations with other people gave us additional material for reflection. And here are some other costs of rude behavior that we found.

Creativity suffers. Together with Amir Erez, Professor of Management from the University of Florida, we conducted an experiment and found that people with whom they “do not stand on ceremony” have a 30% decrease in the ability to be creative. They offer 25% fewer ideas, and even those are less original than the rest. For example, when asked what a brick could be useful for, the subjects who were attacked by others gave logical, but not very interesting answers: to build a house, a wall, a school, etc. Subjects who were treated politely showed more imagination. Productivity drops and team spirit is undermined. A person is upset, even if he sees how rude to others. Participants in one of our experiments, who witnessed such excesses, solved puzzles 20% worse than the rest. In addition, they were less likely to show willingness to help, including to people who were not related to the rude person. 25% of witnesses of rudeness and 51% of the rest of the subjects volunteered to help. Clients leave. After interviewing 244 consumers, we came to the conclusion that impolite employees are common. Whether the waiters swear among themselves, whether the sellers honor each other – people do not like disrespectful treatment, and they leave without buying anything. We studied this phenomenon with Debbie McInnis and Valerie Faulks, professors of marketing at the University of Southern California. Dividing the participants of the experiment into two teams, we sent one to the bank. There, volunteers from the first group “accidentally” witnessed an ugly scene: an employee chastised a colleague for giving someone incorrect credit card information. As a result, only 20% of the participants of the first team – and 80% of the second! agreed to use the services of this bank in the future. And about two-thirds of the witnesses to the unpleasant conversation said that they did not fully trust all the employees of this bank. Moreover, by playing various scenarios, we noticed that people do not care if the employee who was chastised was a bad professional and whether he did questionable actions (say, he parked his car in a place for the disabled). It doesn’t matter to them where the bank clerk was scolded: in front of everyone or behind closed doors. People generally do not want to see someone treated badly. It’s too expensive to deal with incidents. According to personnel officers, a single incident can require a lot of attention and effort. A study by Accountemps (published in Fortune magazine) found that managers and executives in Fortune 1000 firms spend 13% of their work time-seven weeks a year-managing and resolving conflicts between employees. And when you have to resort to the help of consultants or lawyers to solve the problem, the costs naturally increase. Of course, all these materials and observations are the experience of foreign countries. However, if they conduct such surveys and experiments in both the private and public sectors in Azerbaijan, we will probably see that there are many problems.

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