Combating Rudeness

By Lindy Earl

I’m sure you remember your mama saying to you, when you were but a wee child, “Don’t be rude.”  The challenge was, you didn’t understand the word, but you knew you had somehow failed.  The first question, therefore, in dealing with rudeness, is to understand what rudeness is.  In a short sentence, rudeness is putting yourself first to the point of disregarding other peoples’ feelings.

          There are some examples of rudeness that we’ve seen and can relate to on a regular basis:

  • pushing to the front of a line, whether in your car or in person
  • not returning phone calls
  • calling too frequently – pestering or nagging
  • interrupting – maybe verbally or anything that  interrupts your work  flow
  • inappropriate comments/jokes/teasing
  • poor table manners
  • chewing gum loudly
  • too much eye contact—don’t stare; it makes others uncomfortable
  • chronic tardiness
  • distracting odors (smoke, onions, cologne)
  • talking down to others – condescension
  • discussing things not known to everyone present

      Please note that some of the points above have to do with repeat behavior.  In our world, it’s often forgivable to be late on occasion, especially in an area where traffic is a consistent challenge, or bad weather is responsible.  I do believe these situations should be considered and extra time should be taken, but if it only happens occasionally, we can understand and forgive the offense.  It is the repeated behavior, often with an insincere apology or none at all, that constitutes rudeness.

          So, what should be considered when dealing with rudeness?

  1. Is it chronic?
  2. Do you need to subject yourself to this person?
  3. What’s the relationship?
  4. Was it avoidable?

     If there is an ongoing challenge of tardiness, to the point of chronic, you can plan it into your schedule, and simply arrive later than the agreed time.  This might work, especially if you need the other person.  But if you don’t need the contact (#2 above), you might consider eliminating the meetings.  This is, of course, more difficult if your contact is also a family member or friend.  Please consider this before you choose to cut them out of your life.

          Not that this is right, but the fact is, if the other person has a higher position, they are somehow allowed a bit of rudeness.  A boss can interrupt the underling, possibly because they are trying to steer the conversation in a way the employee may not realize.  And it’s not that they are allowed poor table manners, but we’re more willing to tolerate them if the other person has the authority to fire us, or keep us from a promotion, or keep us from getting an order or job.

          And it is reasonable to allow for situations that are unavoidable.  That leads to good communication.  If someone were to contact you ahead of time, even ten minutes, to explain that there’s an accident so they’ll be late, it is much easier for us to accept their tardiness.  Even after the fact, if someone were to stand us up one day, and then contact us the next with the explanation that they were at the hospital, it is much easier for us to be understanding.  If, however, no apology or communication is forthcoming, then you need to take action to avoid being treated rudely in the future.

          What should we do when people are rude to us?

          Here are some options:  First, you may choose to smile and ignore the behavior.  You’re showing you can be flexible and understanding. 

     You may opt to speak to the person gently, privately, and without judging.  In fact, you may be doing them a favor, because they may be losing clients or friends without realizing the challenge is within their control.

     You have the option to shut up and suffer in silence.  In my experience, this is a short term solution unless you have an incredibly large amount of patience.  Sadly, I’ve seen this tried repeatedly, and when it ends, it tends to end badly.

     My favorite is to remove yourself from the other person’s presence when possible, realizing that some people are not healthy for you.  In the business world this can often be accomplished with little fuss, as you simply replace the person, and what they do, with a new colleague who can offer the same services without the rudeness.

          Scrutinize yourself

          Before we leave this topic, we might want to check our own manners in regard to rudeness.  For instance, check your table manners.  You may want to ask others to be painfully honest with you.  Just because you never learned how to set the table doesn’t mean there isn’t a correct way.  I can’t imagine you’ll lose a friend over where the fork is on the table, but it does show your manners and refinement.

       Two, put yourself in others’ shoes and ask how you would feel in any situation.  If you’re late, imagine how the other person feels sitting at a table alone in a restaurant—I hate that feeling!  You don’t know if the other person is late or you’re being stood up.  Or ask yourself how you would feel if you left a message that is never returned.

          Third, really make an effort to improve your communication.  Don’t leave any nebulous messages out there about when and where to meet.  Be so specific that there is no question that both parties understand where and when to go.   If you do have a challenge, offer an explanation if it doesn’t reveal any private information.  This isn’t always necessary, but it is nice.

          Next, review your calendar before making dates.  This should remove any chance of double bookings.  Take into consideration time of day and potential traffic challenges before scheduling back to back appointments.

          Finally, keep good records.  This really can help with anything that could be construed as rudeness.  Keep a file on name, company, job title, job promotions, family members (really!), and any news in their life.  A short review will make you seem brilliant and caring, and there are people in this world who are offended and choose to call you rude if you don’t remember their name.  In addition, note when you spoke and generally what you discussed, so you’re prepared for future meetings.

           Being rude happens to all of us in both directions.  Others are rude to us, and we all have the ability to be rude to others.  Sometimes it’s due to tiredness, frustration, bad news, or completely innocent.  You need to decide if and how much rudeness you can tolerate from others, and what you’ll do when it goes beyond your limits.  And you need to decide and learn now how to never be rude to others, intentionally or not.

          Lindy is a Speaker, Consultant, and Business Author, currently living in Atlanta, GA, and available to answer your questions anywhere in the world.  She is The Business Coach to companies with 50 – 100 employees, Entrepreneurs, and Start ups.  Focusing on Communication, Leadership, and Corporate Culture, you can be more successful with Lindy as your Coach.