I’m sure we’ve all experienced rude behavior in the workplace. Even in the most civil environments, you encounter it. People might make sarcastic comments, snarky remarks, pointedly ignore a coworker, or roll their eyes. It’s not uncommon – approximately 98% of employees say that they’ve been the target of rude behavior at work.

It can certainly be hurtful when it happens. But here’s what’s really disturbing – it turns out that it can be catching. New research suggests that rudeness is actually contagious. It passes from one person to the next, often without people even realizing it.

In a recent study, researchers asked people to pair up and practice their negotiation skills. Then they assigned them to different partners, and asked them to continue negotiating. Here’s what they found:

  • People who initially worked with someone polite tended to behave politely when paired with a new person.
  • People who initially worked with someone rude were likely to behave in a rude manner when paired with a new person. They passed the rudeness along, just like the common cold.
  • The passage of time didn’t even seem to make a difference. When people initially negotiated with a rude person and then waited a week before negotiating with a new person, they were still more likely to behave rudely.

Even just witnessing rudeness tended to make people more likely to behave in a rude manner. That’s how contagious it appears to be.

Rude behavior can have a detrimental effect on people. It can be damaging to people’s performance, productivity, and creativity. So what can you do to protect yourself and others from this damaging contagion? The researchers who conducted the study offer simple advice… be nice.


Foulk, T. (2015, July 28). Rudeness is contagious. Gizmodo. Retrieved from http://gizmodo.com/rudeness-is-contagious-1720535575