Intended for healthcare professionals


Rudeness at work

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 19 May 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c2480
  1. Rhona Flin, professor of applied psychology
  1. 1King’s College, University of Aberdeen, Old Aberdeen AB242UB
  1. r.flin{at}

    A threat to patient safety and quality of care

    Does rudeness at work have any effect beyond the risk of emotional arousal for those involved? Could it influence a worker’s concentration and consequently affect the safety of high risk tasks? The effects of incivility on task performance are beginning to interest psychologists who study human behaviour in high risk work environments.

    Last year, it was reported that two Northwest Airlines pilots flying an Airbus A320 from San Diego to Minneapolis, with 147 passengers onboard, became so engrossed in a “heated discussion over airline policy” that they “lost situational awareness” and overshot the airport by 150 miles before a member of the cabin crew called the flightdeck and they realised their mistake.1 The flight landed safely after contact with air traffic control was resumed. The airline has treated this as a serious safety incident and suspended the two pilots, whose licences have been revoked. Whatever caused their lack of attention, the story illustrates the interplay between emotionally charged behaviour, namely arguing or rudeness, and cognitive skills, such as concentration.

    Rudeness in the workplace is not uncommon. In a poll of 800 employees in North American organisations, 10% reported witnessing workplace rudeness …

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