On the Job: Technology gives us new tools to be rude
Nearly everyone has a story about someone at work who has been rude.
Perhaps it was the boss who sent a snippy email or the coworker who made snarky comments, but workplace civility often seems to have gone the way of the typewriter.
The deeper issue with workplace rudeness is how it affects the bottom-line success of a business. A 2011 study found that workplace rudeness caused 48 percent of workers to deliberately slack off and even affected their interactions with customers.
It also caused internal strife as workers reported spending time worrying about a rude interaction or lost work time trying to figure out how to avoid an uncivil co-worker.
Ron Ashkenas, a senior partner at Schaffer Consulting, says reliance on technology has spurred more workplace complaints of incivility.
"It's difficult to pick up social cues when you're always communicating virtually and aren't seeing someone face to face," Ashkenas says. "Without picking up on cues, you may just plow on without realizing how someone else is reacting."
Young workers often are cited as sending texts instead of communicating in person or via phone, which some older colleagues find rude. But Ashkenas says no one age group holds the record for uncivil behavior, and all employees can improve their interactions.
Young workers can help improve perceptions by putting down their smartphones in meetings and focusing on what their teammates are saying, says Dan Schawbel, author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success.
He also suggests that young workers push themselves to get away from their cubicles and email. Instead, they should meet with the boss or co-workers in person.
"If you rely too much on technology for communicating, it will be hard to build strong interpersonal relationships," he says.
Ashkenas says that he has experienced his share of rude workplace behavior, such as one person who sent him an urgent email requesting information.
The request required Ashkenas to work feverishly to pull to together the information from several different sources, but he managed to respond quickly.
The response? Nothing.
"I got no feedback. No thank you," he says. "Two weeks later after I sent a note asking if they got the information, they responded with 'Oh, yeah.' It was like it had fallen into a cyber black hole."
Too many people have become focused on clearing the decks of their own workload, which means firing off email requests without any real thought about how it will affect the receiver, Ashkenas says.
"It's like the person who sends out a mass email asking for ideas on how to solve a problem," he says. "What you're really doing is getting other people to do your work."
Ashkenas and Schawbel offer several suggestions on how to avoid being seen as rude at work. Among their ideas:
Not everything is urgent • While we have become a 24/7 culture, don't expect colleagues to respond immediately to everything.
Make it clear if something is urgent, but don't put deadline pressures on them that are unnecessary. If a request is made, respond with feedback or a simple "thank you."
Don't cut corners with texting or instant messages • Emoticons or text abbreviations are irritating to those receiving them. "You need to be professional in the workplace regardless of how you communicate," Schawbel says.
Watch the cell yell • People often talk loudly on their cellphones at work, and Schawbel says he personally finds it annoying to listen to long personal conversations with significant others or friends.
Set boundaries • Meet with a team to discuss proper protocol such as to when work should be considered urgent and what workplace behaviors are considered rude.
What does it mean to treat someone with respect and courtesy? What can be done when rude behavior takes place?
Experts say if you're not sure if your behavior may be discourteous, you simply should think about some of the rude behaviors that you find annoying. Then make sure you're not doing the same to other people.
Often just becoming more aware of how your actions affect others can go a long way toward alleviating workplace rudeness.
Anita Bruzzese can be reached c/o Gannett ContentOne, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, Va. 22107.