Many of us think that powerful people are rude because they can get away with it. However, this might be a classic chicken and the egg problem. Do powerful people use rudeness as an abuse of power or does their rudeness actually make them more powerful?
A fascinating study published in 2011 in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science had some surprising results when it examined which comes first for people—rudeness or power?
First, researchers asked the participants to read a story about a visitor to an office who brazenly marched in and poured himself a cup of “employee only” coffee without permission. They also had to read a story about a financial bookkeeper that deliberately broke accounting rules. Participants were then asked to grade the rule breakers as either more or less powerful compared to people who didn’t steal the coffee or break accounting laws.
Amazingly, people actually rated the rude characters as more powerful. This suggests that rudeness actually signifies power. In fact, the ruder someone acts, the more convinced participants become that he or she is powerful. This, of course, causes people to make even more allowances for that person’s impoliteness because it seems their power excuses them from not having to respect the same rules as others.
The researchers decided to do a follow-up experiment to further confirm the shocking findings. In this experiment, study participants watched a video of a man at a sidewalk café put his feet on the furniture, tap his cigarette butt on the ground and rudely order a food. They had another group of participants watch a video of the same man behaving politely. Again, the rude man got higher ‘power ratings,’ like “getting people to listen to what he says” than that polite man—although these were actually the same actor in the same setting, with the same order.
This experiment actually has some interesting implications for real life. Here are some ideas we can take away from this research study:
1. Don’t Let Rude People Trick You
Subconsciously we feel that violating social norms is a sign of power, even when this is not actually the case. We must be hyper aware to not allow these subconscious feelings inform our behavior towards people. When you see someone do something rude, immediately re-align to make sure that you are not giving them further allowances.
2. Don’t Use Rudeness As A Power Tactic
Just because being rude makes people see you as more powerful, does NOT mean you should be impolite to garner authority. Even if in the short-term people see you as more powerful, the long-term effects of rudeness and abuse of power can be extremely harmful. Discourteousness discourages productivity, teamwork and trust.
3. Beware of Celebrities, Politicians and Famous People
We often give allowances to politicians or people in the public eye because they are seen as powerful. This is a negative concept to reinforce. We should hold politicians even more accountable and discourage rudeness as a power play.
You might find that just being aware of our subtle perception of rudeness and power will help you see others more clearly. I encourage readers to take note of their subconscious assumptions and challenge them with truth and honesty.
Breaking the Rules to Rise to Power: How Norm Violators Gain Power in the Eyes of Others Social Psychological and Personality Science 1948550611398416, January 26, 2011