A handy guide on how to avoid the spread of rudeness at work.

It has been said that a bad mood is contagious — and certainly more preferable than other contagious diseases, such as ringworm — but is it true?

Does a rude comment have a tangible effect on us in the same way as the Trichophyton fungi found in ringworm? (Sorry, that’s the last I’ll make mention of it).

A recent study discovered that just as we are more susceptible to physical infections when our immune systems are down, we are similarly more likely to be rude to others when our ability to regulate behaviours is running low.

The team at the University of Arkansas used ego depletion theory to ascertain whether someone who experiences rudeness at work, is more likely to then behave rudely themselves.

Cheeky little rude bacteria are creeping around workplaces like Tim in Accounts, who is somehow always first to arrive at a staff birthday cake unveiling.

Ego depletion theory essentially states that self-control is a finite resource.

If you reflect on your own experience at work or study, it makes sense: there is only so much we can expend emotionally and psychologically before we end up snapping.

So how can we do our best to reduce instances of rudeness, and prevent the dreaded spread of incivility?

Aside from the obvious (wear gloves if someone is being rude to you), we have compiled some easy tips for workplace etiquette.

Be perceptive

Is now really the best time to ask your manager Fran about plans for the Christmas party, while she is working through lunch to make a conference call while simultaneously faxing reports to head office? Perhaps not. If a colleague seems frazzled and your concern can wait, or be directed elsewhere, perhaps practice some discretion and let it wait.

In the meantime, you could do some work (boring), waste time in the tearoom or figure out why your company still uses fax machines.

Let it go

Some people are just nasty and mean and callous and it is in their nature. Others, however, might be more prone to rudeness if something is going on in their life.


Maybe they have just received awful news, maybe they are chronically unwell and exhausted, maybe their hamster is in the hamster hospital having his hamster foot operated on?

We never really know what is happening in the lives of those around us, so if a colleague snaps at you — try not to take it personally.

Learn to say no

So many people could benefit from this one simple trick of learning to say “no”.

Whether it is working overtime when we are exhausted or agreeing to cover another person’s shift when it is inconvenient, learning to say no — and simultaneously, learning to accept no as a response — is imperative.

You will be less likely to snap at your colleague’s noisy eating at their desk if you are not angry at your boss for asking you to do extra tasks.

Maybe they will even share their Lunchables Snack Pack with you! OK maybe not, this isn’t primary school.

Choose your whinges

It is common to bond over negativity, but that is not exactly conducive to a healthy workplace environment.

Some people seem to enjoy complaining about the same thing day in, day out.

It is natural to want an understanding ear, shoulder to cry on or other body part for some reason, but also realise that yelling about the leaky fridge every morning at 9.08am is not going to fix it.

Pick your battles, choose your whinges.

Be nice

I know it sounds risky and revolutionary, but I believe in you.

Small acts of kindness can go a long way, whether it is helping someone unload a large delivery or simply asking if they would like a cup of tea.

Any work environment can become tedious and the existential dread can creep up on us at any moment so why not hold the lift open for Tim in Accounts? It won’t kill you.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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