The Psychological Toll of Rude E-mails

For a civilized society, we’re not always so civil. In fact, rudeness is a pervasive problem. In a 2002 report on a study conducted with a large representative sample of 2,013 adults, 88 percent of the general public indicated they had come across rude and disrespectful people on a daily basis. And the workplace is no escape. As the sheer volume of electronic communications has skyrocketed, the problem of “nasty e-mail” is becoming nonnegligible. In fact, more than 90 percent of professionals surveyed in a 2009 study said that they had experienced disrespectful e-mail exchanges at work.

Electronic communication is efficient, but it’s also distant and detached. In face-to-face interactions, people are usually aware of their mutual expectations regarding civility and decency. Sitting in front of a computer screen, however, the need for decency disappears. No one would think to ignore a question or respond rudely in person. Yet with e-mail, individuals are given free rein to avoid requests or to reply in an insensitive tone.

By Zhenyu Yuan and YoungAh Park, Scientific American

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