October 27, 2021

Why Does Rude Behavior Really Bother Us So Much? | Trevor Foulk PhD

Rudeness is contagious, in a similar way to a virus. When experiencing a rude encounter, our brain perceives it like a threat. And once we’ve tuned in to this low-level threat, we’re more likely to notice it around us, and therefore more likely to display rude behavior ourselves.

Our guest on this episode is Dr Trevor Foulk PhD, Assistant Professor of Management & Organization at the University of Maryland. His well published research on deviant workplace behaviors and workplace power dynamics, has been featured in Time magazine, Harvard Business Review, and the Wall Street Journal.

Trevor walks us through what rude behavior actually is, what our evolutionary response to it is and how we can take steps to mitigate the effects of it. We are also delighted to talk about Trevor’s research around the way power changes our behavior, and what impact a feeling of paranoia can add to the dynamics. And to Tim’s delight, Trevor also boosts our understanding of how music affects work performance. 

Truth be told, our conversation with Trevor has opened our eyes into how rude behavior really impacts people. And in our Grooving Session, at the end of the episode, Kurt and Tim recap the ways Trevor’s research can improve our lives.

If you enjoy listening to our podcast, you can become an exclusive Behavioral Grooves Patreon member at https://www.patreon.com/behavioralgrooves. 


(3:28) Welcome and speed round

(8:38) How rudeness is contagious.

(11:45) Why do we view rudeness as threatening?

(13:10) The solutions to rudeness.

(15:36) How our response to rudeness differs from holding a grudge.

(17:52) Are certain personality types more susceptible to rudeness?

(19:15) What effect does rudeness have on medical professionals?

(22:59) Can gratitude have the opposite effect to rudeness?

(24:27) How the Anchoring Effect is affected by rudeness.

(28:43) How does a feeling of power change our behavior?

(35:40) Paranoia and power.

(39:51) How does music influence performance?

(47:35) Grooving Session with Kurt and Tim discussing what we’ve learnt from Trevor’s interview.

© 2021 Behavioral Grooves


Dr Trevor Foulk PhD: https://www.rhsmith.umd.edu/directory/trevor-foulk 

Foulk, T.A., Woolum, A., & Erez, A. (2016). Catching rudeness is like catching a cold: The contagion effects of low-intensity negative behaviors. Journal of Applied Psychology: https://www.courts.state.co.us/userfiles/file/Administration/Probation/ResearchInBriefs/RIB_Rudeness_Apr16(1).pdf 

Riskin, A. Erez, A., Foulk, T.A., Kugelman, A., Gover, A., Shoris, I, Riskin, K., & Bamberger, P.A. (2015). The impact of rudeness on medical team performance: A randomized trial. Pediatrics: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26260718/ 

Foulk, T.A., Lanaj, K., Tu, M., Erez, A., & Archambeau, L. (2018)  Heavy is the head that wears the crown: An ator-centric approach to psychological power, abusive behavior, and perceived incivility.  Academy of Management Journal: https://journals.aom.org/doi/10.5465/amj.2015.1061 

John Bargh: Episode 155. Dante, Coffee and the Unconscious Mind: https://behavioralgrooves.com/episode/john-bargh-dante-coffee-and-the-unconscious-mind/

John Bargh, Episode 248. Do We Control Situations or Do Situations Control Us? https://behavioralgrooves.com/episode/control-situations-with-john-bargh/ 

Vanessa Bohns, Episode 253. Why You Don‘t Need to be Powerful to be Influential: https://behavioralgrooves.com/episode/influence-vanessa-bohns/

Musical Links 

Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen “This Old Porch”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1xY2pu31h4

Jim Croce “Operator”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rw01trwmul0

Rancid “Fall Back Down”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CinJuVtdp3Y

Jimmy Buffett “Margaritaville”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3HBcgxOWAQ

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