Interacting so often with computers may be fuelling some amnesia in how to treat other humans. Christine Porath, associate professor of management at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, has studied incivility at work for more than two decades, and has found that more of us are being rude to each other.
The rise predates the COVID-19 pandemic. And I’m not talking about just a failure to say “please” or “thank you”. Porath’s research has documented drivers and waitresses being berated to the point of tears, doctors shouting at nurses, bank tellers sniping at each other.
One customer even told a service rep he hoped his wife and daughters would be raped. What’s wrong with people?
TECHNOLOGY CAN EXACERBATE THE PROBLEM
Writing about her research in the Harvard Business Review, Porath explains that stress, negative emotions, weak social ties and a lack of self-awareness can all play a role – but so does technology, which can exacerbate those other problems.
When was the last time you signed off Twitter feeling lighter and happier? When your boss interrupts your one-on-one to check his phone, does it build your trust? Perhaps customers have become so accustomed to dealing with self-checkout kiosks, some have forgotten how to interact with real people.
I don’t think technology is the enemy (and even if it is, it isn’t going anywhere). Social media can be damaging to our mental health, but FaceTime allows my toddler to talk easily with her out-of-state grandparents. Part of the solution may be designing technology systems that are more flexible – more “tell me how I can help” and less “press 1”.