Guest Editor: Michael Cofield, PhD, ABPP
“Sticks 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 consequences.
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?
A recent 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 medical teams.
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:
· Made misdiagnoses.
· Forgot instructions.
· Didn’t ventilate or resuscitate well.
· Mixed medications incorrectly.
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 year.
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.”
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.” 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. We are listening.