Nov 10, 2022 - Economy

Rude behavior is contagious and on the rise

Illustration of a mob of angry emojis.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Rude behavior is on the rise, according to a new study published in the Harvard Business Review.

Why it matters: Not only does incivility harm those on the front lines of health care, education, transportation and retail, to name a few industries, but it also hurts the businesses and institutions where it happens, writes Christine Porath, a professor of management at Georgetown University who's long studied incivility.

  • She defines incivility as ignoring people, intentionally undermining them, or mocking, teasing and belittling them.

By the numbers: Porath surveyed 2,000 people and customers across more than 25 industries globally.

  • 73% said it was not unusual for customers to behave badly; up from 61% in 2012 when she did a similar survey.
  • In this year's survey, 66% of respondents said bad customer behavior toward other customers is more common than it was five years ago. In 2012, just under half of respondents said this.

Details: In interviews, people shared some horror stories.

  • After a retail worker said "good morning" to a customer, they replied: "I do not need you for anything. Leave me alone. If I need you, I will call you. You are here to serve, not to talk with me."
  • "Daily, families disparage, yell at, and belittle us while we provide care for their children," a pediatric emergency doctor said. "A few months ago, I asked a father to put his mask back on, per hospital policy. He stormed out of the room and said he was leaving because he did not believe in masks. I came back in and his six-year-old child told me, 'Daddy spit on the ground.' Sure enough, there was a big spit wad on the hospital floor."

What's going on: Stress plays the biggest role here, and in recent years we've all been more stressed. "The pandemic, the economy, war, divisive politics, the changing nature of work, and continued uncertainty are all taking a toll," she writes.

  • Porath also points to weakening community and workplace connections; as well as the greater disconnects wrought by technology.

What they're saying:Research shows that rudeness is like the common cold: It’s contagious, it spreads quickly, anyone can be a carrier — at work, at home, online, or in our communities — and getting infected doesn’t take much.”

The bottom line: The rise of incivility ultimately comes back to bite us all.

Go deeper: Read the story at HBR

Go deeper