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Whatever! Five Ways To Deal With Rudeness At Work

Rudeness at work. We've all experienced it, but it's how we choose to respond to it that matters. So how should we frame our response to the co-worker who seems about as warm as an icy Arctic wind?

I'm still getting back into the swing of things after a summer hiatus, so I thought I'd turn to an expert on business manners for advice on putting the rude co-worker in better perspective (and with our rude co-workers, we definitely need some perspective).

Beverly Langford is author of the new book, The Etiquette Edge: Modern Manners for Business Success (AMACOM). She teaches Business Communication at Georgia State University, and also owns her own consulting firm, LMA Communications. Here are five expert tips she shares for dealing more effectively with rude people in the workplace:

1. Develop a mindset that you will refuse to return rudeness.

Once you decide that you will not let another person's rudeness make you play his or her game, then you can be creative in working toward resolving unexpected and unwanted incidents. In no way should you just "take it" and let someone's rude, or even bullying, behavior either make you miserable or force you to seek another job.

Looking at the problem as objectively as possible can help you identify the most workable solution. And, by refusing to emulate bad behavior, you will establish yourself to the rude person and others as mature and rational.

2. Analyze the coworker's rudeness to determine causes or patterns.

Is George habitually rude to everyone or does he aim his hostility at you? Does Kayla in accounting seem to be under stress in addition to being rude?

Sometimes people aren't adept at identifying and compartmentalizing their frustrations or handling stress. So something else, either professional or personal, may be contributing to one's rude behavior. Perhaps a major report is due by the end of the day, and you have interrupted Martine to discuss something that is important to you but not as critical to her. Consider arranging a mutually convenient time when your colleague may have time to give you the attention that you need. A quick email asking for a moment of her time can avoid an unpleasant personal exchange. Demonstrating consideration for her schedule and acknowledging that she has multiple responsibilities can put the two of you in a more favorable environment.

3. Determine if you are inciting rudeness by your own behavior.

Do you interact with this coworker only when you want something or need that person's help, or have you taken the time to establish a positive, mutually beneficial relationship? The persuasive principle of reciprocity encourages us to give before we need to receive. How can you help your coworker so that the transactions aren’t always one-way?

What about your attitude toward this person? Do secretly feel superior because of your position or expertise? Although your demeanor toward this person may not be overtly rude, your colleague may perceive your conduct as inconsiderate or domineering. Particularly, if no one else seems to be on the receiving end of this person's rudeness, a reality check may reveal some changes that you can make in your behavior. For example, avoid showing up unannounced, and take particular pains to demonstrate appreciation.

4. Decide how you will respond to someone’s rudeness.

You have a couple of options here. Behaving as though you don't perceive any incivility may be a good way to respond if the affronts are minor and occasional. Someone may find it difficult to continue rude behavior if you affirm the person and take steps to move the conversation in a more positive direction. "Vernon, you always have great insights about this problem customer. I wonder if you can give me some direction before I make that sales call. I wouldn't disturb you if I didn't need your help."

If you have tried the affirming approach already, and things haven't improved, consider confronting the rudeness directly and calmly. "Janet, you seem irritated. If I have done something to upset you or if this is a bad time, I apologize. Perhaps we can talk later."

Very few people will remain angry and combative in the face of a sincere approach, but if nothing else works and the unacceptable behavior continues, then cut your losses and keep your distance. In the rare instances where you can't get through to another person in a positive way, you have the right and even the obligation to protect yourself from the unpleasantness. If you have to deal with the person at work, minimize face-to-face contact and work through a third party whenever possible.

5. Don't completely give up on your colleague because in many cases situations change and emotions dissipate.

If, however, the whole world is the target of this person’s rudeness, he or she will inevitably find the working environment a lonely place.

Thanks for these great tips, Beverly.

Have you ever dealt with a rude co-worker? Please feel free to share your advice for dealing with these colleagues. We can all learn from each other, and let's be nice while we're doing it.


  1. Also analyze your own perceptions/reactions & behaviour - it is easier to change yourself than someone else (in theory).


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