Gail Fairhurst, Ph.D., is a Professor of Organizational Communication at the University of Cincinnati. She is the author of The Power of Framing: Challenging the Language of Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2011).
Recently, The Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled, “Workplace Rudeness Is as Contagious as a Cold.” It reported on a University of Florida study of workplace simulations in which a worker’s foul mood or gruff behavior proved contagious:
“The research suggests that witnessing or enduring rudeness causes our minds to subsequently interpret even ambiguous or benign actions as uncivil, and leads us to respond with equal effrontery.”
Recent advances in brain science explain contagion effects a little differently. It suggests that we have mirror neurons that rather automatically reflect or “mirror” the emotions of others. Almost without thinking, we absorb the harsh look, rigid back, or threatening eyes. If brain science is right, then frequently clarifying our values with respect to civil behavior in the workplace and beyond is all the more important to do.
So talk about civility with those who are important to you. Work hard at establishing a civil workplace. Say “Good morning” to people you meet or in emails you send—regardless of your mood or theirs. If the brain scientists are right, you could literally change the world—one message at a time.