Having worked as a bank teller for three and a half years before graduating from college in 2007, Michael T. Sliter, PhD, made a startling discovery: He found it
easier to deal with the rare aggressive customers — people who
shouted and spat — than people guilty of more subtle rudeness,
such as not saying “please” or “thank you,” questioning his
competence or talking on a cellphone instead of focusing on the
business at hand.
“With people who are overly aggressive — shouting, yelling,
occasionally spitting on you — you can attribute that behavior
to their personality,” says Sliter, now an assistant professor
of psychology at Indiana University–Purdue University
Indianapolis. “At the end of the day, the type of customer who
bothered me the most was just rude.”
Sliter didn’t let the experience get him down. Instead, he
went on to become one of a growing number of psychologists
conducting research on incivility. With polls suggesting most
Americans feel civility is in decline, psychologists and other
researchers are finding that rudeness does more than just
make life unpleasant. It also has an impact on our ability to
concentrate, our well-being and the bottom line.
A 2012 poll of 1,000 American adults by Weber Shandwick
The poll did find a major increase in one area: online
and Powell Tate in partnership with KRC Research found that
about two-thirds of participants believed that incivility is a
major problem. Almost three-quarters thought that civility has
declined in recent years. While just 17 percent of participants
reported being untouched by incivility, fewer reported personal
experiences with incivility in certain contexts — on the road,
while shopping, at work and in the neighborhood — than in
last year’s survey.
incivility and cyberbullying. Incidents doubled between 2011
and 2012, going from 9 percent of participants reporting that
they had experienced such behavior to 18 percent.
Anonymity may be driving that phenomenon, says Ryan
C. Martin, PhD, who chairs the University of Wisconsin–
Green Bay psychology department. “When you’re posting
anonymously, you’re more willing to say things you otherwise
wouldn’t say,” says Martin. Plus, he says, the fact that you can
respond immediately reduces impulse control.
So-called rant sites like www.justrage.com encourage
such behavior. But sparring with strangers on these sites,
the comments sections of mainstream news sites or even
Facebook and Twitter isn’t good for your mental health,
Martin and colleagues found in research published this year in
Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.
In one study, a survey revealed that people who frequent rant
sites score higher on anger measures, express their anger more
maladaptively and experience such negative consequences as
verbal and physical fights more frequently than others. A second
That’s just rude
Psychologists are finding that boorish behavior
can have a lasting effect on well-being.
BY REBECCA A. CLAY