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Why the silent treatment can speak volumes

While employees are generally encouraged to be confrontational, recent research shows that giving the cold shoulder to particularly obnoxious coworkers can give you peace of mind.


February 25, 2013 6:19 by

No matter which office you work at there is always bound to be one rotten apple. Someone who is unbelievably rude, a bully, terribly uncooperative or, even worse, thrives on instigating trouble. This person may work with you, for you or perhaps, you may even work for the person. You have tried playing nice and you have tried being mean, but nothing works. So what do you do? HR manuals would recommend a win-win confrontation session including a lot of helpful proactive speak – but what if you have tried all of that and it has not worked out?

Cue: the cold shoulder.

You may think it is a petty and even unhealthy attitude to adopt, but recent research has found people tend to perform tasks better when they ignore somebody who is obnoxious.

“It’s depleting to force yourself to have difficult conversations when all you want to do is ignore the person. Ostracism can serve the regulatory goal of allowing people to conserve resources” says Kristin Sommer, Associate Professor of Psychology at Baruch College, City University of New York.

The researchers asked 120 people to either ignore or engage in conversation with an actor. After they interacted with the person in charge, they were taken to a different room where they were asked to carry out a concentration-heavy assignment.

The findings were published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that: “participants performed worse on this task after ignoring – versus conversing with – a likable person. But in the obnoxious condition, the opposite was true: performance was significantly better when people had used the silent treatment on the offensive speaker.”

It isn’t exactly ground breaking stuff, after all the science behind this experiment confirms what we all know: if a dog barks at you, should you bark back? If a person is beyond redemption choosing to save your energy can not only help you maintain your inner peace, but it can also increase your productivity.


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