Why Leaders Can't Afford to Overlook Rudeness at Work

To keep your office culture from turning toxic you need to take action when it is merely unpleasant.

learn more about Heather R. Huhman

By Heather R. Huhman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Anger, gossip and irresponsibility are the sorts of behaviors that come to mind when we think about a toxic workplace, but a new study reveals another behavior leaders should beware of: rudeness.

Rude behavior is contagious and can spread quickly throughout the workplace, according to the study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in June. The study found impolite interactions cause employees to perceive rudeness in later interactions, which often results in impolite retaliation.

Leaders shouldn't tolerate this kind of harmful behavior -- it's not something that can be swept under the rug. Here are some ways to address rudeness in the workplace, before it spreads:

1. Set and maintain expectations.

One of the most important employee needs is clear expectations. If there aren't any established boundaries and expectations, employees don't have a guideline to follow.

"Great managers don't just tell employees what's expected of them and leave it at that; instead, they frequently talk with employees about their responsibilities and progress. They don't save those critical conversations for once-a-year performance reviews," states an article published in Gallup's Business Journal in April.

Establish expectations through frequent conversations with employees. Don't not just meet monthly or quarterly. Keep a positive tone and address examples of what employees already do well. When gray areas are uncovered, address them by collaborating with employees to determine a set rule.

Related: How the Epidemic of Bad Behavior Affects Your Business

2. Create a supportive work environment.

It's probably no surprise that when employees perceive their work environment to be abusive, job frustration and co-worker abuse are at their worst. A study published in the Journal of Social Psychology in 2013 found just that.

Invite employees to communicate their concerns openly. Use a platform like Emplified, where employees can express their needs and job satisfaction. Overall, remind them the organization is on their side.

3. Eliminate negative talk.

Even more interesting, the Journal of Social Psychology study found abuse doesn't necessarily even have to take place to make employees feel frustrated and dissatisfied. Employees only need to perceive other employees aren't being treated well, and the illusion becomes exaggerated through rumors and stories retold.

Discourage rumors and encourage positive conversation among employees. Watch out for and quell complainers. If conversation topics begin to skew toward negative, bring it back to positive with a new topic. Show appreciation to employees who spread good vibes and carry an uplifting attitude.

Related: 5 Ways to Tell If Your Workplace Is Really Toxic

4. Improve employee emotional awareness.

Emotional intelligence has the power to increase employee engagement and overall organizational performance, according to a three-year study of McDonald's supplier AMADORI published in 2013.

The more self-aware employees are, the more they are able to recognize what makes them tick, as well as what pushes their buttons. Help employees engage in some self-discovery. Administer personality tests like Myers-Briggs or DiSC assessment to help them understand how they work so they can better manage emotions.

5. Turn upsetting events into productive conversations.

Let's say George walks into Lisa's office to find she's crying. George should acknowledge she's upset, ask what's wrong and listen. If Lisa needs some alone time at the moment, George can recommend she write down what she's upset about so she can process it clearly. Then, when she's ready, George should come back to see what he can do to help.

Ignoring or not acknowledging when an employee is upset is a surefire way to let negativity grow. During upsetting events, emotions run high. If feelings of anger, disappointment or sadness aren't addressed, they can fester into rude behavior.

Be a resource to employees and help them navigate through stressful situations productively. Help them reach a solution and if anything, listen. Sometimes all employees need is to know someone cares for them.

Related: 12 Ways Successful People Handle Toxic People

Heather R. Huhman

Career and Workplace Expert; Founder and President, Come Recommended

Waldorf, Md.-based Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager and president of Come Recommended, the PR solution for job search and HR tech companies. She writes about issues impacting the modern workplace.

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