Contactually Study Finds a Correlation Between Rudeness and Productivity

ByWilliam Smith

The internet is notorious for at least two things: being a massive black hole where time is inevitably sucked away, and a haven for rudeness.

Engineers at referral marketing company Contactually analyzed more than 100 million email conversations between users of their platform and found that people who write positive, upbeat emails end up responding to fewer emails than people who write negative or rude emails. Specifically, the cheerful people responded to only 47% of their received emails in a 24-hour period, whereas the grumpy cats responded to a respectable 64% of emails.

What could explain this? One of Contactually’s investigators suggested it could be that negative people are more active online. This is somewhat hard to believe in the context of emails, though it does make a little more sense in the context of articles’ comments section. In many self-reporting feedback contexts (think websites like Yelp or, most of the comments are either clearly negative or positive. That said, it could be that people who are more critical and/or untrusting of others are likely to communicate more often in an effort to exert control over projects.

Perhaps a more plausible explanation is that people who are more productive in the first place tend to experience more stress, which can manifest as rudeness. We don’t have access to the emails they analyzed, but it would be interesting to see whether there is a correlation between senders of rude emails and persons with lots of responsibilities for work. Another possible explanation is that the rude emails may have occurred during the beginning and middle stages of projects, when there is a need for more communication, and the cheery emails occurred mostly at the end of projects, with less need for further communication.

One question relevant to the usefulness of these findings is how the researchers separated the happy people from the rude people? The story says “people who more frequently used…”, so we have a general idea of how they teased out the different types of emails, but there is no mention of how many people were routinely positive or negative. If the average person wrote a more-or-less  equal number of positive and negative emails, and the ones who wrote consistently happy or negative ones where in the minority, the results may not be that meaningful.