Guest Editor: Michael Cofield, PhD, ABPP
and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
Have you ever wondered if this old
saying is true? Some recent research may surprise you. It turns out that
“rudeness,” especially in a professional setting, can have very serious
For example, law enforcement officers are
at a significantly increased risk of assault if those they apprehend feel
they’re being “dissed,” or treated rudely.
But, surely smart, highly trained
medical doctors would be able to “shrug off” rude comments from a colleague
they hardly knew, right?
study published in a major medical journal found just the opposite. The
study entitled, “The Impact of Rudeness
on Medical Team Performance: A
Randomized Controlled Trial” found
that rude comments made by a fellow
professional “decreased performance among doctors and nurses by more than 50%”
in a hypothetical life-or-death situation.
The research was based on the results obtained from 24 intensive care
Each team was given an hour to diagnose
and treat a simulated case of a life threatening illness. Half of the teams were given brief “fake”
feedback from a physician observing by webcam that was derogatory in nature. It
widely indicated that he was “not impressed” with the team’s efforts. The control group was provided very similar
but emotionally neutral comments.
The rudeness had “dramatic effects.” Both
doctors and nurses saw their performances “plummet.” They often:
ventilate or resuscitate well.
In essence, rudeness led to a 52% decrease between how well the team made
an accurate diagnosis, and a 43% decrease in how well they treated it, as measured by three independent judges. One of the
authors concluded that the differences obtained would have had “life-or-death”
consequences in the “real world.” The
authors described rudeness as a potential cause for at least some of the approximately
200,000 - 400,000 plus deaths from medical errors made in U.S. hospitals every
Apparently even intelligent, seasoned
professionals don’t easily “shrug off” rudeness from others. The authors describe rudeness as a
“disruptive behavior,” and emphasized that it can spread “like a contagion” within
an organization affecting our ability to reason, comprehend, and recall
important information. They conclude
that even “mild incivility” can have “profound effects.”
One conclusion from the study is that we
should all “consider the long-term effects of acting rudely toward one
another.” The good news is that a known
set of skills emerging from the science of human behavior can help make you
more immune to rudeness from others, and far less likely to “dish it out.”
from the study is that we should all “consider the long-term effects of acting
rudely toward one another.” The good
news is that a known set of skills emerging from the science of human behavior
can help make you more immune to rudeness from others, and far less likely to
“dish it out.” To learn more about this set of skills, contact our Mindability
offices directly. If you are interested in connecting with our community, please add your comments to the section below.
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