Study after study confirms what you've probably already observed in person - being a jerk is contagious. Not only does science show that witnessing rudeness stresses your brain, making you functionally less intelligent, but it also proves that those subjected to obnoxious behavior tend to become obnoxious not just to the offending jerk but also to other innocent bystanders as well.
Knowing this is useful - if you're aware of these tendencies, you can watch out for them - but really it raises more questions than it answers. It's good to know bad behavior is catching, but what you really want to know is how to halt the spread of the disease.
Thankfully, that is possible, contends Kristin Wong in a long and useful post on Lifehacker recently. Just like a little hand washing can stop that nasty cold from spreading to everyone in your office, a few simple but powerful steps can also prevent rudeness from spreading, she insists. What are they? Here are a few of her prescriptions in brief.
1. Remember it's not about you.
Naturally enough, rudeness tends to make us angry. And when we're angry, we tend not to be at our nicest. Short circuit this rudeness-anger-rudeness cycle with a little strategic empathy, suggests Wong.
"Another person's rude behavior it's rarely about you. Maybe it's a coping mechanism. Maybe they feel inadequate or defensive. Or hell, maybe someone else was rude and it rubbed off on them," Wong points out. Realize that and you're more likely to be able to keep your own behavior in check.
2. Remind yourself you're in control.
When rudeness is thrust upon you by another person, it's easy to feel like you don't have any agency. The situation is their fault, you think. But while it's true you can't control other people's behavior, you can remind yourself that you control your response.
"I use my irritability as a trigger. When I notice bad behavior rubbing off on me, I try to do the opposite of what I want to do, which is to be defensive and rude. Instead, I go out of my way to be nice, even though I'm in a bad mood and I don't feel like it," writes Wong. That's not always easy, of course, but the world would be nicer for all of us if we managed to follow her example more.
3. Acknowledge your emotions.
There's no two ways about it -- incivility is deeply annoying. Trying to repress that truth is almost certainly going to backfire, as your anger will leak out on some unsuspecting victim later. Instead, Wong suggests that you "sit with your feelings for a moment and identify them. Think objectively about what you're feeling. For example, instead of 'that mean customer made me feel belittled,' I would just say, 'I feel belittled.' This helps you keep the situation under control by separating your emotions and staying in the present."
These are only a handful of the great many strategies offered by Wong, so check out the complete post for more suggestions.