We always knew that kindness could go a long way. But for hospital patients—especially those in emergency situations—it may go so far as saving their lives. That is, if the doctor on call is nice to his fellow medical staff.
A new study published in the September issue of Pediatrics found that a rude comment from a third-party doctor, in which he criticized the abilities of the medical staff, impacted their success rate in simulated life-or-death situations. Researchers noted how the comment caused doctors and nurses to misdiagnose diseases, forget instructions, fail to resuscitate patients and mix up medication—a 52 percent overall decrease in performance.
“We found that rudeness damages your ability to think, manage information and make decisions,” Amir Erez, an author on the study and a Huber Hurst professor of management at the University of Florida, told NYmag. “You can be highly motivated to work, but if rudeness damages your cognitive system then you can't function appropriately in a complex situation. And that hurts patients.”
The reason why rudeness has such a devastating impact on people’s performance is because it interferes with a person’s working memory, which plays a key role in being able to process information and make decisions quickly. In a hospital setting, it can especially have dire consequences (the study’s authors suggest that rudeness may account for many of the untimely deaths caused by medical errors each year, which ranges between 210,000 and 440,000). According to the study’s authors, hospitals need to have more repercussions in place for squashing rude behavior, especially when considering how rudeness in a workplace tends to spread.
And should you wind up in the hospital in the meantime, it couldn’t hurt to throw a few compliments your medical staff’s way, just in case.