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Verbal Abuse Slows Down Productivity

Verbal Abuse Slows Down Productivity

Anyone can have a bad day and lash out at a coworker. Civilized people will later apologize for their poor behavior. On the other hand, there are certifiably rude people in corporate America who have made incivility, rudeness and verbal abuse a way of life in business. The companies who employ these violent neanderthals in business suits should beware of their negative consequences.

In a recent behavioral study reported by Harvard Business Review, it was determined that workers on the receiving end of verbal abuse became impaired in their ability to perform tasks. According to researchers, “their studies indicate that after exposure to rudeness, people think hard about the incident—whether just ruminating or trying to formulate a response—and those thought processes take cognitive resources away from other tasks.”

“The mere thought of being on the receiving end of verbal abuse hurts people’s ability to perform complex tasks requiring creativity, flexibility, and memory recall,” according to Christine Porath of the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business and Amir Erez of the Warrington College of Business Administration at the University of Florida.

The study also found the environmental impact of rudeness to be very profound and overreaching to even those outside the receiving end of the abuse. Researchers stated, “Verbal abuse affects more than just those who experience it directly; it apparently can harm innocent bystanders.”

If you want your company culture to deteriorate with increasing doses of fear, risk aversion, inability to make decisions, and lack of communication, employ or promote rude people. In other words, trying to create a great workplace while employing rude people is a recipe for failure.

It is common for business leaders to allow executives, rainmakers, and movers and shakers to behave in a rude manner, including verbal and psychological abuse. Leaders falsely believe the rude rainmaker’s contributions overcompensate for the toxic venom they spew in the office. Some mistaken leaders believe a toxic tyrant’s abuse causes employees to work harder.

Do you want to build an energized, profitable and high-performance organization? Require your leaders to take a stand against rude behavior. At times doing the right thing is difficult—it calls for strength of character—but it brings great rewards. The CEO must weed out abusive employees no matter their position in the organization. By doing so, the organization can return to an environment conducive to creativity, flexibility, productivity and profitability.


Kevin Kennemer is founder of The People Group based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Kevin is driven by his passion for company owners and their need to earn a profit, employees’ desire for a positive and fulfilling work experience, and the community that benefits when both groups do well.

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