For hospital staff, running into a jerk at the workplace may not only ruin your day, but your patient’s as well — at least that’s what a recent study published in Pediatrics suggests.

The study authors found that exposing medical teams to even a tiny amount of rudeness in the middle of an emergency can hamper their ability to cooperate and perform under pressure, leading to worse patient care.

The authors recruited 24 separate teams of hospital staff who worked in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) from Israel to participate in their study. All the teams were asked to run through a training simulation in which an premature infant had come down with a common, but severe, medical complication known as necrotizing enterocolitis (fancy term aside, the condition describes bowel tissue dying off).

Likewise, all teams were told that a “foreign expert on team reflexivity in medicine” from the United States would be observing them throughout the stimulation, occasionally chipping in with their own thoughts over the phone. Half the teams were given a expert that played the jerk, offering “mildly rude” statements that had nothing to do with their performance, and the other half were given neutral comments.

The simulations were videotaped and presented to another team of trained judges that evaluated them based on dimensions of help-seeking and information-sharing behavior, as well as their overall diagnostic and procedural performance on a five point scale (One being poor, five excellent).

“The composite diagnostic and procedural performance scores were lower for members of teams exposed to rudeness than to members of the control teams (2.6 vs 3.2 and 2.8 vs 3.3 respectively),” the authors concluded. “Rudeness alone explained nearly 12% of the variance in diagnostic and procedural performance.”

The authors were especially interested in the subject because medical mistakes can arise from even a slight slip in performance among staff when treating patients. “Team-targeted rudeness may underlie such performance deficiencies, with individuals exposed to rude behavior being less helpful and cooperative,” they wrote.

While their findings may not dissuade jerks from signing up to work in a hospital, it should encourage staff to stamp out rude behavior when it rears its ugly head — they might just save a life.

Source: Riskin A, Erez A, Foulk T, et al. The Impact of Rudeness on Medical Team Performance: A Randomized Trial. Pediatrics. 2015.