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How Creativity Conquers Rudeness

Study Shows Creating Together Brings Courtesy, Social Closeness on Work Teams

By Veronica Robinson

Woman tosses papers in front of co-worker

Closeness and empathy among team members rise and rudeness decreases when people are engaged in creative work together, a new UMD study finds.

Illustration by iStock

Whether for finding smarter approaches to problems or simply having more fun at work, it’s tough to find any drawbacks in having creative mindsets among team members. But here’s a benefit you might not have thought of, according to recent findings from University of Maryland business researchers—a reduction in rudeness on the job.

In a paper published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, researchers in the Department of Management and Organization showed in four field and lab studies with more than 1,600 participants that when workers are aware they’re integral to a creative process, it bolsters a feeling of social closeness and empathy. The result is two-fold: Employees are less prone to instigating discourteous behavior toward colleagues, and they’re also less likely to perceive it from co-workers.

“Creativity requires us to share ideas, feel comfortable qualifying or clarifying the ideas of others, saying things that might be pointless,” said he paper’s lead author, Associate Professor Trevor Foulk. “All of this is more easily done with people we feel close with, so when we are in a creative mindset, it causes us to feel more socially close to our co-workers.”

Foulk has conducted several previous studies on the effect of rudeness, including one demonstrating that doctors who witness rudeness among colleagues more frequently arrive at a false diagnosis. Co-authors were Professor Vijaya Venkataramani, Rujiao Cao ‘21 of Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Satish Krishnan of the Indian Institute of Management.

The research shows that creativity has its most positive effects when employees work in supportive, “psychologically safe” environments because in those cases, workers tend to experience “good” creativity—the kind where ideas are supported and built upon, rather than criticized and torn down.

Among those who are creative by nature, or “dispositionally creative, the team found that shared creative work had less of an effect, because they already have “stable tendency to feel close to their coworkers,” according to the study.

Does the study suggest that people must feel close to effectively do creative work together? Not at all, Foulk said. “People who hate each other create amazing things together all the time, just less than people that really like each other."



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