'Rudeness at work can lead to mistakes'

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The Independent Online

Rudeness at work can lead to mistakes, experts said today.

If you are rude to colleagues, they are rude to you or you witness rudeness, mistakes are far more likely to occur, studies have shown.

Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), Rhona Flin, professor of applied psychology at the University of Aberdeen, said being the victim of rudeness can impact on how people perform tasks.

Human attention "is powerfully driven by emotion", she wrote.

In one study, students who were insulted by a professor on the way to the test performed worse on a series of memory tasks than others who had not been spoken to rudely.

"This reaction is probably caused by the emotional arousal caused by the rudeness, which resulted in a switchover of cognitive capacity to deal with the required emotional processing, or it may, more simply, be caused by distraction," Prof Flin said.

In other research, a student who was late for a group experiment apologised, but was told by the person in charge: "What is it with you? You arrive late, you are irresponsible, look at you, how do you expect to hold down a job in the real world?"

The level of rudeness was not extreme and the comment was said at normal volume.

However, students who witnessed the exchange went on to perform more poorly on tasks than a control group which had not witnessed rudeness.

Prof Flin said the link between performance and rudeness was particularly worrying when it comes to healthcare, with patients potentially being put at risk.

In operating theatres, even witnessing rudeness between doctors can impact on how the team performs.

"Recent studies suggest that disagreements and aggression between clinical staff are not uncommon," she wrote.

In a survey of 391 NHS operating theatre staff, 66% said they had been the victim of aggressive behaviour from nurses and 53% from surgeons during the previous six months.

Prof Flin said: "If incivility does occur in operating theatres and affects workers' ability to perform tasks, the risks for surgical patients - whose treatment depends on particularly high levels of mental concentration and flawless task execution - could increase."

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