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Chronicles from a Caribbean Cubicle


Rudeness and the Jamaican Workplace

Here in Jamaica, we put a lot of stock in manners -- the worst insult that can be made about a manager is that they don't respect people.

In a recent issue of Harvard Business Review, the following excerpt makes the point that the Jamaican worker is right -- rudeness has been found to be correlated with productivity.
Rudeness and Its Noxious Effects

Grumpy managers who have a tendency to lash out are sometimes tolerated in businesses if their direct reports are thick-skinned types who don’t complain about anything. But beware of more distant effects: It’s likely that other employees are harmed by these incidents, even if they only hear about them secondhand.

The mere thought of being on the receiving end of verbal abuse hurts people’s ability to perform complex tasks requiring creativity, flexibility, and memory recall, according to Christine Porath of the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business and Amir Erez of the Warrington College of Business Administration at the University of Florida.

In studies involving separate groups of university students, the authors tested the effects of three forms of exposure to rudeness: In one study, the harsh words were directed at participants by a researcher (“What is it with you undergrads here?…[you] leave a lot to be desired as participants”). In another, the cutting remarks came from someone ostensibly outside the study—a professor whom the participants had to interrupt (“You preferred to disturb me…when you can clearly see that I am busy. I am not a secretary!”). In the third, the participants were asked to imagine that those incidents had happened to them.

In all three cases, participants’ ability to perform tasks such as solving anagrams and suggesting uses for a brick was impaired. As for why this happened, the researchers say their studies indicate that after exposure to rudeness, people think hard about the incident—whether just ruminating or trying to formulate a response—and those thought processes take cognitive resources away from other tasks. As the authors put it in their recent Academy of Management Journal article, verbal abuse affects more than just those who experience it directly; it apparently “can harm innocent bystanders.”

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  • I had to laugh when I read this. It describes my office to a TEE! I am always amazed at how short-sighted workers are...they don't think of the long run. I have been in my industry for 20 years and because I treat customers well, I now set the terms of my contract with my company. It wouldn't occur to the people in my office that they could be in the same position. Also, I find that this kind of boorish disposition is not limited to line workers only. It starts at the top to the bottom. This is what happens when you don't know what you are doing at the top...you can have all the education in life (which is lacking in most Jamaican organisations anyway), and still be a terrible manager....it has a lot to do with the things schools won't teach you....like how to be a human being and treat workers with respect. This topic is multi-dimensional and it would be interesting to find out why workers have these attitudes.

    By Anonymous jamaican girl, at 4/02/2008  

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