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Etiquette At Work

Technology and stress are making us ruder

I like to start seminars by asking participants an easy question: Are Americans ruder today than 20 or 30 years ago?

When AP/IPSOS polled Americans on this question, 69 percent answered yes. I think that percentage accurately reflects general opinion because when I ask that question, lots of hands shoot up around the room. I rarely get push back on the issue.

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Except once. Last week, one vocal young woman said, “Absolutely not!” Her reasoning was that the increased awareness of rudeness and the frustration people feel about it had led to people treating each other more pleasantly recently.

Simply put: The public discourse about civility in America has had a positive impact on how we treat each other. And, she pointed out, 30 years ago in the 1970s and 1980s, her perception was that people really had been self-centered and rude in ways that they weren’t today.

I haven’t changed my mind about how I would answer the question, but her sincerity and conviction were quite impressive. When I consider this question, I focus on two reasons why I think we are ruder today:

Technology has introduced new means of communicating. As a society we’re still struggling with what actions are perceived as rude when we use digital devices. Initially, with the advent of cellphones, people considered it disrespectful when someone answered a call while talking face-to-face with another person. That particular faux pas continues to be committed by cellphone and smartphone users today. Smartphones have upped the rudeness ante, as people now routinely interrupt face-to-face conversations to send a text.

The recession that started in 2008 has had a long-term impact on many people’s lives, adding stress to everyday living as jobs and income took a hit. Unfortunately, stress leads people to act impulsively and rudely. Even more unfortunately, that’s the start of a vicious circle, as rudeness begets more stress.

What do you think? Are we ruder today than 20 or 30 ears ago? If you’d like to register your opinion, answer our Emily Post poll hosted by Survey Monkey at .

E-mail questions about business etiquette to
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