A rude awakening...


Date: 7 October 2010

Man shoutingDo you work in a civilised environment? Surrounded by an atmosphere of sweetness and light, with cheerful colleagues merrily pulling together to achieve the organisation’s aims? Does everyone share tea-making - and often offer you a biscuit? Thought not.

You’re not alone. Conflict at work is a big problem and there is now a plethora of legislation and procedures designed to prevent it. And as a recent article in the British Medical Journal pointed out, rudeness at work can be a major problem. They cite an incident on board a Northwest Airlines flight last year where the pilot and co-pilot became involved in a heated argument, “lost situational awareness” and overshot the airport by 150 miles. A member of the cabin crew had to bring them back to earth (almost literally).

According to the BMJ, disputes between health staff are commonplace. That worries me more. Aircraft have autopilots and, ahem, cabin crew, to point out when the pilot has lost the plot (or the plane). If the surgeon removing my ingrowing toenail is in a strop, who will stop him from whipping off another part of my anatomy by mistake? The BMJ survey reported that “disagreements” between nurses and surgeons were reported by 63 per cent of respondents.  

According to research, being the victim of rudeness can impair your cognitive skills. If someone is rude to you at work or you witness insults being traded you are more likely to make mistakes, says study author Rhona Flin. In most workplaces, the consequences of a loss of concentration might not be so dramatic, but it can still present a problem.

Workplaces have become, on the surface, more informal environments yet the type of conduct that is acceptable is much more restricted. Just think about how we all love “Life on Mars” and “Ashes to Ashes”. Man or woman, who doesn’t secretly want to be Gene Hunt for a day? Try it – you’ll get “grieved” to Kingdom Come.  We often see cases where a client complains of unacceptable behaviour, be it sexist, racist, homophobic or just cruel, which is then dismissed by the perpetrator as “banter”, “having a laugh”, with the victim further made miserable by accusations they “can’t take a joke”. It’s not on. So where is the dividing line between what’s acceptable and what’s not? You can’t draw it so easily.

Maybe rudeness at work has had a more dramatic effect. Here in the City, dealing rooms are notorious for being high-pressure, stressed and obnoxious environments. Perhaps if they had all been well behaved and courteous to each other they wouldn’t have caused the biggest recession since the 1930s? Just a thought.


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