Customers Hate Rudeness Even When It’s Not Directed at Them

In their research studies, Porath, MacInnis, & Folkes (2010) “demonstrate[d] that witnessing an incident of employee-employee incivility cause[d] consumers to make negative generalizations about (a) others who work for the firm, (b) the firm as a whole, and (c) future encounters with the firm, inferences that go well beyond the incivility incident” (p. 292).

We might expect that incivility directed at consumers would just have negative effects on those consumers. However, and this is what’s noteworthy, research showed that “consumers are also negatively affected even when they are mere observers of incivility between employees” (Porath et al., 2010, p. 301).

In Study 1, the researchers (Porath et al., 2010) used an employee-employee incivility incident among representatives of a bank, and involved a reprimand of one employee by another. Study 1 demonstrated that consumers became angry when they witnessed an employee behaving in an uncivil manner toward another employee, even when the organization was new (or unknown) to them (consumers).

In Study 2, the researchers (Porath et al., 2010) used an employee-employee incivility incident among representatives of a well-known bookstore. The researchers discovered that, even for a place that was familiar, when customers witnessed one employee being treated uncivilly by another, the customers’ anger lead to ruminating about the incident and faster and more negative generalizations about the company.

Sound Bite: Customers are watching not only how companies treat them, but how these organizations treat their own employees and how coworkers within the organizations treat one another. More importantly, even when bad behaviors are not directed at the customers themselves, their negative observations of incivility between employees lead to negative impressions about the organizations for which the employees work.

“[I]ncivility (and the anger it induces) causes consumers to make far-reaching and negative conclusions about the firm” (Porath et al., 2010, p. 300).


Porath, C., MacInnis, D., & Folkes, V. (2010). Witnessing incivility among employees: Effects on consumer anger and negative inferences about companies. Journal of Consumer Research, 37(2), 292-303.