Human Factors Minute is now available on Spotify: Check it out here!
July 7, 2021

A Deep Dive into How Rudeness Impacts Us

A Deep Dive into How Rudeness Impacts Us

A Deep Dive into How Rudeness Impacts Us

The week is half over and we are back to help you push through the rest of it with a new Human Factors Cast deep dive! This week we will be exploring anchoring bias, why rudeness impacts us so much, and what a world without rudeness might look like.  

What is Anchoring Bias?

When it comes to the heuristics we use to make quick decisions as we go about our lives, anchoring bias is one of the strongest and most persistent. The general idea of anchoring bias is that our mind takes one piece of information and uses it as a reference point (an anchor) when considering new information. It creates the lens through which we view the world, for at least a brief period of time. 

While the reasons behind anchoring bias are still largely unknown (and seem to fall in the category of “it depends”), research has shown that it is a major part of how we interact with the world and make decisions. It can result from a random comment, the roll of a pair of dice, the spin of a wheel, and can even maintain a strong influence when the participant is reminded that the anchor is irrelevant. 

Its influence can be seen in real-world situations such as lunch suggestions, marketing, and in the courtroom. If a friend asks, “What do you want for lunch? Sandwiches?” we will often reply, “Sure!” even if we might actually have wanted something else had we not been prompted with “sandwiches.” If we see a new television marked as “$2,999 Now only $1,899!”, we will think we are getting a much better deal than if it had been marked $1,899 in the first place. If a judge is recommended particular sentencing for a case, that recommendation has a direct effect on the sentence determined by the judge. 

Anchoring Bias and Emotions

We tend to think that we use emotions, logic, or both to reach a decision. With anchoring bias found to have such a significant impact on our decision-making process, it makes sense to examine how emotions can influence anchoring bias. 

In a study looking at how mood and expertise influence judgmental anchoring, researchers found that happy judges were much less influenced by anchoring bias than sad judges were, particularly if they were non-experts. Anchoring bias seemed to be the strongest when participants were in a neutral or sad mood, though mood seemed to have no effect when the participant was an expert. In other words, if you do not know much about a topic and are in a happy mood, you may be less susceptible to anchoring bias. 

Another study examined the effect of incidental anger on anchoring bias. Researchers found that the participants in the angry condition were less influenced by other-provided anchors and more influenced by self-provided anchors than participants in the sad or neutral conditions. When considering anchoring bias and rudeness, as we did in last week’s episode, we can see how anger may play a role. 

Rudeness and Why It Matters

Image source: cottonbro | Pexels

While we all have an idea of what we consider rude, it is important to remember that rudeness is a very individual concept. Rude behavior is behavior that is outside the accepted norms of a social group. It is considered to be disrespectful, inconsiderate, aggressive, offensive, and otherwise unacceptable. An important part to remember is that rudeness is all about how the behavior is perceived by an individual in a particular context: each person will bring their own experiences, culture, and values to an interaction, and there are often social rules about what is acceptable behavior depending on the setting (for example, shouting may be acceptable in a park but not during a chess match). 

Experimental studies published in The Academy of Management Journal found that rudeness - regardless of origin, even if imagined - decreased participants’ task performance on both routine and creative tasks as well as reduced the likelihood they would help others. The researchers additionally found that rudeness seems to have a spillover effect, meaning that it could influence behavior towards people who were not even involved in the original instance of rudeness. This idea that rudeness carries over to future interactions has been supported by further research, such as a study from 2016 that concluded rudeness can spread like the common cold: easily and with significant consequences.

Other studies have examined rudeness in work settings. A 2005 meta-analysis of research on this topic discovered that incivility decreased the time employees spent working, their work effort, productivity, and performance. Rudeness led to behaviors from victims, witnesses, and stakeholders that further chipped away at organizational values, resources, and worker retainment. A 2011 study found that customer and coworker incivility interacted to predict decreased sales performance and increased absenteeism. 

 

   READ MORE

A World Without Rudeness

Image source: Kampus Production | Pexels

What would a world without rudeness look like? Is it even possible? A quick Google search for “a world without rudeness” seems to indicate that being rude is just a natural part of life, especially in the modern age. In fact, it may be so much a part of us, we do not even realize we are doing it. 

A 2006 piece in the journal International Studies in Applied Philosophy suggests that although over 75% of Americans consider rudeness to be a serious national problem, rudeness is a natural part of having a dynamic society. As society’s rules and norms evolve, some rudeness is required to help break out of the status quo. Otherwise, nothing gets challenged, and change is slower or even non-existent. Consider the status of slavery and equal rights for minority groups: without “rude” behavior, we likely would not have made nearly as much progress as we have today (though we still have a long way to go). 

The article also points out that our perception of rudeness comes from our expectations that people will know how they should properly behave and will do so at all times. As this is nearly (perhaps even completely) impossible, there will always be some amount of rudeness we must deal with.

But perhaps we are approaching this from the wrong angle: maybe we need to come at this from the side of politeness instead. Unfortunately, our results are not much better. Searching for information about what a polite, civil world might look like gives us helpful tips about how to deal with rudeness. There are also articles about how to disarm rude people and how we can be assertive without appearing rude. It seems the general consensus is that rudeness is here to stay, so we just need to learn how to deal with it and avoid being rude ourselves as much as we can. 

Is There Hope?

Though a world without rudeness might not be possible, world peace might be. Some psychologists and philosophers believe that peace, like Thanos, is inevitable, as it is an essential part of who we are. While this may seem hopelessly optimistic, we must keep in mind that peace is not the absence of all conflict, but rather can be considered the absence of war and standing military-police organizations, little or no structural or interpersonal physical violence, society has the capacity for non-violent change, and there are opportunities for idiosyncratic development. 

Rudeness may be a side effect of living in a dynamic society, but we can still work towards a peaceful world. Maybe then rudeness will seem less like an awful, terrible, no-good thing and more like a sign that we are continuing to make the world a better place for us all. 

The Human Factors Connection

Image source: Anna Shvets | Pexels

Now that we have accepted rudeness is an unavoidable part of life and anchoring bias has a major influence on our judgments and decisions, we can brainstorm how to use what we know about human cognition and behavior to help decrease their negative impacts on the people whose lives are touched by our products, services, and environments (aka the fun part!). 

We can take our knowledge of anchoring bias into the design and use of diagnostic tools. As an example, a study that examined how the design of a tool to help children rate the pain they were feeling found that children’s pain ratings were influenced by the type of scale used, and those with smiling faces as the anchor for “no pain/neutral” confounded affective states with pain ratings. 

While anchoring bias has an undoubtedly strong effect, it can be mitigated by considering other comparisons than the one you are given and by learning more about the subject (this can even work for an emotional anchoring bias). Prompts to encourage end-users to make more comparisons or find more information could be a way to integrate this concept into product and environment designs. 

When we consider how to help reduce rudeness or the effects of rudeness through the products and environments we design, we can think about it in terms of breaking the cycle of rudeness. As mentioned, rudeness tends to have a spillover effect and can lead to more rudeness, so interrupting the influence of rudeness is essential for mitigating its impact. In the workplace, rudeness interventions have shown remarkable success at creating more civil (and thus more satisfying and productive) environments. 

One such workplace intervention model is Civility, Respect, and Engagement in the Workplace (CREW), a culture change initiative launched by the VHA National Center for Organization Development (NCOD) in 2005. The goal of CREW is to facilitate employees taking charge of changing how they interact with coworkers to promote a more civil and respectful environment, and to do it using a client-centered approach. A study that tested the effects of the implementation of the CREW intervention on health care workers found that it had a significant positive impact on coworker civility, supervisor incivility, respect, cynicism, job satisfaction, management trust, and absences.

Although full interventions may be beyond the scope of some of our positions, we can take principles from these interventions and integrate them into our projects. For example, client intake forms or diagnostic software might include quick self-reflection prompts for health care workers to assess their emotional state before interacting with the patient further or making any judgments about patient care. Color schemes and environmental design might be deliberately chosen to encourage people to be more calm, happy, deliberate, or mindful of themselves and others. 

Anchoring bias and rudeness are significant hurdles to overcome. They can override our best intentions, push us to make not-so-great decisions, and have far-reaching effects that go beyond our awareness. Challenging to tackle they may be, but by applying our knowledge of human factors to our projects, we can help others make better decisions, be more conscientious, think critically, and nip negative interactions in the bud. 

 

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

For more Human Factors Cast content, check back every Tuesday for our news roundups and join us on Twitch every Thursday at 4:30 PM PST our weekly podcast. If you haven't already, join us on Slack and Discord or on any of our social media communities (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).

 

Explore Some More

Episode Links

    • Does ‘Rudeness’ Impact Patient Treatment?

What is Anchoring Bias?

Rudeness and Why It Matters

A World Without Rudeness

The Human Factors Connection

 

Photo by Liza Summer from Pexels (left)

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels (right)