Is Bad Behavior Ruining Your Business? How to Bring Civility Back to Work

When people simply witness rudeness in the workplace, it can cloud their decision-making in serious ways, due to a psychological effect called anchoring, in which a person fixates on one piece of information. Researchers examined the effect in a series of experiments and published the results on July 8 in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

“While small insults and other forms of rude behavior might seem relatively harmless compared to more serious forms of aggression, our findings suggest that they can have serious consequences,” said study leader Binyamin Cooper, a postdoctoral fellow of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.

In one of the experiments, participants were asked to negotiate a deal based on an initial offer, which served as the anchor. Those who were then exposed to a rude interaction were more likely to counter with a figure closer to the initial offer than participants who did not see the rude behavior, Cooper told CO—.

Other experiments in the study revealed how rudeness can interact with anchoring to cloud any number of decisions.

Imagine a business owner or manager working to forecast company performance six months out, Cooper suggested. It would be typical to first look at current performance, then make assumptions about the future. But if the person experiences or witnesses a rude event before making the prediction, they’re significantly more likely to base it on current performance and ignore other potentially important factors, he said.

How to foster civility

One way to steer clear of incivility is to weed out rude people in the hiring process, Cooper said, but he added that there’s little evidence to suggest such a strategy is effective. Instead, he and other researchers stress that employers need to be both proactive and reactive to prevent and respond to incivility.


Binyamin (Benny) Cooper
Binyamin (Benny) Cooper
Assistant Professor

My research explores how communicators and receivers navigate difficult conversations in the workplace.