Like a Virus

Published: Jun 16 , 2016
Author: Sebastian Bacewicz


It’s common knowledge that being rude to people may not be the best way of achieving what you want.  In fact, the effect of being rude will mostly achieve the very opposite: if you're rude to somebody, they're more than likely going to be rude right back to you, and certainly less likely to give you what you want.  A resulting vicious circle of rudeness ensues, and a bad deal - or no deal at all – achieved in the end.

New research conducted by the University of Florida suggests that an initial act of rudeness can cause a ripple effect where people who experienced rudeness are then more likely to be rude to other people, who then will be rude to others.  In other words, rudeness can spread in a similar way to a virus.

During the research, students undertook a negotiation exercise, followed by the “Splitting The Cash” game in which they could choose to split the cash fairly, selfishly or spitefully (denying the cash altogether to the other party).  Each student repeated the same exercise with 10 people.  The researchers found that if a student A was rude to student B during the initial exercise, student B was then more likely to spike them financially (no surprise there, really).  The interesting part is that when student B then conducted the same exercise with student C, student C would more likely find them rude and therefore spike them financially in the cash game - creating that ripple affect across the whole group.

The reason for this viral effect is that experiencing rudeness brings it to the front of our minds, changing the way we interpret other peoples’ behaviour and therefore affecting our own behaviour towards them and other people.

The viral effect is especially strong in ambiguous situations where someone’s behaviour can be interpreted both ways.  People who experienced (or even witnessed) an act of rudeness are then more likely to perceive ambiguous behaviour as rude, rather than give it the benefit of their doubt.

So, in your negotiations, bear in mind that not only can being rude be counter-productive in getting the best deal, but also what effect this behaviour could have on your own team - who may then spread your rudeness on to other people inside your organisation.  And if you are on the receiving end of an act of rudeness, be more aware of how this can affect your own behaviour towards other people.

I am not suggesting being soft.  By all means be tough, just treat others the same way you would like to be treated yourself. Can’t go wrong with that, can you?

Sebastian Bacewicz


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