Rudeness and Performance Effects

In another post, LaurA mentioned this article in comments, but I think it deserves its own post, so here it is.  The article, “Rudeness in Medical Settings Could Kill Patients,” relates a study done to assess performance effects from rude interactions in perilous medical contexts.  Among the notable findings:

  • rude comments appeared to cause a 52 percent difference in how well teams diagnosed the disease, as measured by three independent judges who were blind to the study’s thesis, and a 43 percent difference in how well they treated it.
  • rudeness could contribute to many of the preventable deaths caused by medical error in U.S. hospitals each year, which, according to a Journal of Patient Safety study, is between 210,000 and 440,000 people.
  • Because [rudeness occurs with some frequency in urgent medical situations, lead researcher] Erez said he expected that the experienced medical teams in his experiment would get over the rude comments and keep working effectively — especially given that their task was diagnosing a newborn in an emergency situation (albeit a simulated one). “But we found consistently and dramatically that rudeness isn’t something people can easily get over,” he says. “It’s not something that you can postpone emotionally to a later time because it affects the cognitive system.”

This sort of study and result would suggest that we really do miss something significant in not attending to issues of manners (and rudeness) in moral philosophy.  It’s not just that the consequences limned here seem so potentially dramatic – though this is huge – but that expectations we might have about developing resilience in repeated exposure to rudeness don’t seem borne out.  The issues here are several but the main one seems to be that there is a heavy cognitive-emotive tax exacted by rude interactions and it’s one the draws off energies and attentions we wish to direct elsewhere.

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