Rude Color Glasses

Recently I was in a diner enjoying breakfast and a little calm time before my hectic day began. Suddenly, I overheard a guy at the next table loudly harass the server because his scrambled eggs were a little too watery for his taste. It seems he likes them well done.

The server was polite–she apologized and offered to replace them. The rude customer accepted her offer while offering up some sarcastic comments. As for me…I put on my rude color glasses.

Viewing the world through rude color glasses. That’s how Dr Andrew Woolum, assistant professor of Management at the University of North Carolina, describes what happens to the rest of your day when it starts with simply witnessing an act of rudeness. In his research, recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, he shows how those rude color glasses cause you to perceive greater incivility in everything that happens to you and around you.

Referring to his research subjects, Dr. Woolum writes: “All of a sudden everyone seemed rude, so they disengaged which killed their performance.” He could have been describing me, as I walked out of that diner.

I didn’t realize I was wearing rude color glasses until later, when I reflected on my day. Not long after breakfast, I had clearly overreacted to an imagined slight. To my great dismay, I saw that I had gone on to exhibit boorish behavior in a number of instances throughout the day.

And it all started with something as seemingly innocuous as overhearing someone being rude about his runny scrambled eggs. A witnessed act of rudeness can depress performance and disconnect you from, or worse, irritate, others. According to Dr. Woolum, rudeness is contagious.

The rude diner probably managed to contaminate at least 5 or 6 people who were within earshot. And I probably managed to do the same, throughout the course of my day.

Next time you are on the brink of rudeness, think about the negative impact you’ll cause in everyone around you. And if you happen to be unlucky enough to manage a habitually rude person…it might explain your poor results. A bit of contamination can go a long way towards infecting the whole organization.

Shine a light on rudeness in your organization and get rid of it. And don’t forget to start with yourself.


Reference: Dr Woolum research as described in the Wall Street Journal article “The Effect of Rudeness” by Heidi Mitchell.

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