The Careerist posted a blog about how rude people are more respected than polite people. Vivia Chen cites recent social science research that says, “not smiling, shouting, and generally being unpleasant and disrespectful” gets people respect. She goes onto mention that “successful rude people also know when to turn on the charm. They might treat associates, secretaries, and weaker partners like dirt, but when it comes to clients or those more powerful, they are the sweetest, most solicitous people on earth.”
Pretty gross right? Why is this? Have we just hung onto the grade school idea that if-he-calls-you-names-it-means-he-likes-you for far too long? I’ve never understood why we tolerate rude people. But respect them!? That I will never understand.
I was at a conference last spring and one of my peers recounted a particularly awful summer associate position she once held. “My boss had me in tears,” she recounted. A (male) senior partner in our group responded that the woman needed to toughen up, that rude partners were just the name of the game. I asked what he, as a presumably not rude senior partner, had done in the past to help change the culture he was describing. He was dumb struck. I’m not sure if he was more confused by the idea of changing culture or the idea that he had some responsibility to do so.
What this recent research tells me is: we all have some responsibility to change the culture. As women in the legal profession we can’t just complain about the sexism, the male dominated norms, and the good ol’ boys club. We have to change who we respect. Someone who doesn’t smile and treats those around him or her poorly hardly deserves your respect. S/he should know (or at least be able to garner…assuming this person pays enough attention to others to garner anything) that the values of the other people in the firm are more equitable, inclusive and, well, nice than that.
Please don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that the polite people of the world fight respect with disrespect. I'm proposing that they fight it with professionalism. Making it (politely) clear what kind of work place and profession they are will (or not willing) to contribute to.
I was at a talk once where Rebecca Walker was speaking about equitable romantic relationships between men and women. She said that if we really wanted equitable personal lives we had to stop choosing and admiring men who were domineering. We had to sensualize equality. Maybe that’s also true for the workplace. If we want equity, we have to prioritize it, seek it out, and foster it. Live our priorities and our values even if it means taking a lower salary, taking our talents elsewhere or asking tough questions.