Dropping The Ball At Work? Your Rude Co-Workers Could Be To Blame

September 23, 2017  |  

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“That’s what I have friends and loved ones for,” is the line I commonly drop whenever my friends and I discuss the concept of making friends at work and question why some people choose to come to work and dump their personal frustrations, struggles and overall dissatisfaction with life on their colleagues daily. At the same time I recognize that for those of us reporting to an office every day for a 9-5, a good portion of our lives is spent sitting four or five feet away from the same collection of people week after week and the days go by a whole lot faster when you like those people on some levels even if you don’t exactly ride for them like Pam and Michael Scott from The Office.

Unfortunately when you are in such close quarters, just like with family, after a while your colleagues may begin to annoy the hell out of you. It’s the same person that leaves their mug with the lipstick print in the kitchen sink for days thinking someone will come along and wash it because they don’t have other things to do like, you know, work.  Or what about the guy from finance whose listens to The Eagles’ “Hotel California” on repeat so loud that the earbuds don’t even matter anymore and now you know all of the lyrics. These “micro-aggressions” as the millennials have labeled them can build up over time and before you know it you find yourself dreading heading to work every day, not because you actually hate your job, but all of the bullshit that you have to deal with to do it.

It’s one thing to hate your job and all the people you have work with each day, but could the dirty dishes and extended electric guitar rift of a 70’s classic be having a negative effect on your job performance? A study featured in the Wall Street Journal is now saying you’re not really bad at your job, your co-workers just suck. The study which was actually published in 2015 in the journal, Pediatrics looked at 24 teams of doctors and nurses specializing in neonatal intensive care at four hospitals in Israel.  The teams agreed to participate in a simulation activity that involved a mannequin serving as a preterm infant suffering from a medical complication. The teams were then randomly given rude treatment from a U.S. “expert” who made insulting remarks that insinuated the professionals wouldn’t cut it in his department in the states. Judges who were unaware of the criticism then scored the teams’ work performance. Amir Erez, a management professor at the University of Florida, stated the results were concerning:

“The teams exposed to rudeness gave the wrong diagnosis, didn’t resuscitate or ventilate appropriately, didn’t communicate well, gave the wrong medications and made other serious mistakes.”

And don’t get it twisted, Felisha from Quality Control doesn’t have to cuss you out at the copier for your work environment to take a negative toll or your objectives. Neutral treatment (also known as the coworker who doesn’t speak when you say, “Good Morning”) can be just as damaging. The article also points out that particularly being ignored or feelings of disrespect from a superior can cause employees to experience work anxiety and a sense that they don’t belong. In fact, at the non-profit I’ve worked at for the past year, I joined the Teambuilding Committee hoping to help relieve some of the office tension and micro aggressions that can occur when folks aren’t even aware of the negative vibe they’re sending.

The article also points out how contagious rudeness can be. How many times have you received an email from an impatient co-worker that starts off, “Per our conversation twenty minutes and four seconds ago…”? Before you even get to the closing simply signed, “Best” you’re already summoning your inner snark and trying to figure out how to translate, “Jane, how about you go in the goddamned shared drive where the budgets are located instead of acting like I’m a Digital Golden Retriever,” into a more professional tone. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology last year, researcher Christopher Rosen from the University of Arkansas stated:

“Experiencing incivility wears people down, affects cognition and depletes the resources they have for controlling their own behavior.”

In other words, don’t let Jane take you there. Many times colleagues don’t even realize they’re being rude and the tone of emails can be easily misinterpreted. Ultimately, just because you work with people who missed the manners lesson during their home training, doesn’t mean you have to be impolite along with them.

All of your colleagues won’t be happy hour material. If you work with fairly large number of folks there will inevitably be those you only have small talk with while creaming your coffee in the morning before moving on to go about your day. Then there will be the people you like, whose cubicles you actually visit or the folks you look forward to having lunch with. For me small touches around the office (a board of baby pictures and inspiring quotes or “Hump Day Lunchtime Trivia” can remind employees that their colleagues are actual people outside of their job titles with families, pets and personal lives and not just the folks who decimated your Powerpoint presentation with red ink one bullet point at a time or jammed up the copier for the 15,000th time. I always think of it this way: In the event of a natural disaster or even an hour or two in a broken elevator, these could possibly be the people you are stuck with, and no one wants to have to problem solve with a person who the only thing you know about them is that they really like Diet Coke because the labeled can they have in the fridge every day.

The other day when I saw a colleague was one belittling comment from a superior away from quitting, I thought it was best to tell him one simple thing: “I appreciate you.” Whether they are ordering the staples or choosing your health insurance plan, the point is everyone has something to bring to the team that in some small way at one point or another makes your day easier and helps achieve your common goal as an organization. You don’t have to hug your colleagues and break out in song every day but when it comes to passing Martha from HR in the hallway to use the bathroom several times of the day it helps to be polite. It may not make your day go by any faster, but getting in your feelings because she forgot to update your vacation days isn’t making you any more productive either.

Toya Sharee is a Health Resource Specialist who has a  passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about  everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.

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