Incivility is a big issue in America

Illustration by Jaida Noble | Rudeness can cause a decrease in work performance and motivation.

Every day we see examples of incivility in America and every day our society becomes ruder and ruder.

Something that has always bothered me is just how rude people are to each other. I’ve never been able to comprehend why someone would choose to ruin someone’s day instead of keeping their mouth shut or even helping someone have a good day.

I think about this nearly every day because I see rudeness almost every day, which gets more than a little depressing. 

Recently, I listened to a “Hidden Brain” podcast episode titled “How Rude!”. In this podcast episode, the host Shankar Vedantam interviews Christine Porath, a professor of business at Georgetown University who studies and focuses on making the workplace a more civil place.

Porath and her colleague, Christine Pearson did a study on incivility in the workplace and its effects.

“And what we found is that incivility made people less motivated: 66% cut back work efforts, 80% lost time worrying about what happened, and 12% left their job,” said Porath in her TED Talk titled “Why being respectful to your coworkers is good for business.”

Porath says that when you see or experience someone being rude to you or others, your brain goes into fight-or-flight and in a sense, your brain is paralyzed, unable to help. Your performance, even if you’re not the one having rudeness directed at you, decreases.

A study done by Binyamin Cooper, a Postdoctoral Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University in their school of business, and others in 2021 called “Trapped by A First Hypothesis: How Rudeness Leads to Anchoring” found that even small events of someone being rude can cause a negative emotion that can interfere with a person’s decision-making process.

The same study found that rudeness can trigger our anchoring bias which is the tendency to focus on a single piece of information when making a decision even if the piece of information is irrelevant. 

Rudeness alters your brain and can literally change the way you make decisions. 

In addition to this, rudeness is contagious. What I mean by this is that when someone is rude, you are inclined to be rude back. This only escalates things and continues the cycle. 

This may be why the internet is seemingly full of mean encounters. Think about how often we see videos of Karens going viral or interactions on video games that are uncivil.

When I play video games and I experience incivility or even see it, I still get the urge to be rude back. However, I hold that feeling back because I know it won’t help. It will just perpetuate the cycle of incivility in our society.

Stress is the number one reason that people are uncivil, according to Porath. In addition to this, she says that people are worried about getting ahead (because they think jerks finish first). Porath says studies show that this is in fact not true, that the number one reason for leaders failing is a jerk-like leadership style (think about Ellen DeGeneres).

Porath says civility pays off in the long run and in my opinion, it’s always better to make someone’s day than to ruin it. 

Society seems to always forget the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. We should do better to be nice to one another. It will help us in the long run and honestly, wouldn’t you rather feel like a nice person? 

I encourage you to listen to the “Hidden Brain” podcast episode and listen to Christine Porath’s TED Talk to learn more about being civil and respectful to fellow human beings. 

“What I know from my research is that when we have more civil environments, we’re more productive, creative, helpful, happy and healthy,” said Porath, “We can do better. Each one of us can be more mindful and can take actions to lift others up around us, at work, at home, online, in schools and in our communities. In every interaction, think: Who do you want to be?”

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