Offices are getting more pleasant on the whole, but there's a toxic pattern starting to emerge

Office enemies work fighting arguing mad angry womenMR. Nattanon Kanchak/ShutterstockRudeness is contagious.

When it comes to rudeness in the office, things aren’t going to get better anytime soon.

While bullying bosses are falling out of fashion, technology may encourage people to adopt harsher, less empathetic communication styles, said Liz Dolan, a former exec at Nike, OWN, and the National Geographic Channels.

Dolan hosts the podcast I Hate My Boss with executive coach Larry Seal. As they have rolled out their first season, Dolan and Seal have received tons of feedback about terrible workplace experiences from listeners.

Dolan said some industries and companies seem to foster — and even reward — overt bullying and rudeness.

“It’s like sports,” Dolan told Business Insider. “There are some coaches that are very collaborative with their players. But there are plenty of coaches that think the screaming and yelling and the ‘Bobby Knight throwing a chair’ approach works. You can’t say it never works. Sometimes it does work, unfortunately.”

On average, however, she said workplaces are replacing authoritative, hierarchical command-control structures — in which workplace bullying can thrive — with more collaborative styles. As a result, while bad behaviour at work will likely never entirely disappear, more collaborative environments tend to subdue classic bullying behaviours, like screaming, shaming, and undermining.

“There’s just less accommodation of this kind of behaviour,” she said. “There’s still plenty of it around, but there’s much less than there was a generation ago where the definition of leadership included yelling and screaming and taking a parental voice with your employees.”

That may sound like good news, but it’s not the whole picture. While Dolan argues that certain aspects of office life are on the up and up, there’s one development that threatens to set us all back when it comes to bad behaviour in the workplace: the rise of indirect technological communications.

Relying on email and Slack may result in streamlined, effective communication, but all that indirect talk can take a toll on relationships, according to Stanford professor Robert Sutton.

“It makes it really hard for people to understand what boundaries are when they don’t really get to know each other because all their communication is online,” Dolan said. “We all know that it’s true that there are things you would say in an email or a text message to someone that you would never in a million years say to their face.”

What’s worse, researchers at the University of Florida have found rudeness to be contagious. So just one heated email can have a truly toxic ripple effect throughout your team. Dolan said there’s no quick fix for the issue, but establishing professional communication standards is a good first step.

“Maybe that means just being more explicit about what is professional communication and what isn’t, whether it’s in a formal or informal environment,” she said.

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