How to Deal with Rude People – Co-Workers, Associates, Customers, Strangers, etc.

This is part 1 of my series on how to deal with rude people — including strangers, co-workers, associates, and customers.

“Be kind to unkind people - they need it the most.” ~ Ashleigh Brilliant

Dealing with rude people can be a tricky thing. I personally really hate dealing with rude people, and as much as I can, shed them away.

However, there are times when you don’t have the luxury of choice. Say, if the person is a co-worker, a manager, a business associate, a customer, or even a frontline personnel you need to interact with to get what you need. While you can choose to avoid this person, this decision can make things difficult for yourself and create more work than it’s worth. If it’s in a workplace setting and you’re at an entry-level position or you basically don’t have much clout, being combative or retaliatory may cause you to lose your job and ruin any advancement opportunities.

A Rude Client

I recall a rude client whom I worked with years ago, whom I’ll refer to as T. T was one of the rudest persons I had met up till then. For perspective, I have a very high threshold for what’s considered rude. I also rarely get angry at people unless they’re being very unreasonable. That’s because I used to work in a very high-stress work environment where exchanges would get volatile sometimes due to the high stakes involved, and even though outsiders (as in, people not from the company) might see these exchanges as being “rude,” we never took negative criticism or forceful exchanges as rude. Instead, we learned to objectify them and saw them as positive/constructive criticism, and always focused on the message vs. the method of delivery.

Hence, when I say T was rude, she really was quite rude. When I first met her, I was slightly miffed by her attitude. Details aside, let’s just say that she was not the most cooperative person in the world. She would raise her voice and lose her temper, was unsupportive with requests, used authority as a push factor to get things done, and was overall disrespectful.

The worst thing was that her rude behavior seemed targeted at me. I had no idea why; it was like this from Day 1. On the other hand, she was extremely sweet and friendly to one of my staff who happened to be a guy. Perhaps her rudeness was an offensive behavior from one woman to another; I’ll never know.

Even though I could have dropped this deal, I chose not to. At that time, I was just starting PE and I valued every opportunity I could get, and this was no different. Even if this person was being an ass, even if she was being demeaning to me, I refused to balk. After all, she was really more like the representative of the organization I was working with — I wasn’t working for her as much as I was working for the organization, for the participants of the workshop I was delivering. I wasn’t about to let go of a business deal and an opportunity to touch others’ lives over someone like that — it’s just not worth it.

In the end, I delivered the workshop successfully, received great feedback from the participants, and used this experience to help seal future opportunities and deals.

How many of you have faced such a situation before? Not in a business-client relationship per se, but a situation where you need to deal with a disrespectful co-worker/manager/work partner/customer/stranger, even though you’d rather not if you could have your way? If yes, I hear you. Many of my clients have shared with me unpleasant encounters they had with terrible, rude people in their life, so you’re not alone.

Learn to Deal with Rude People

Quite honestly, I wish there isn’t any rude person in this world. If only everyone is kind, helpful, and supportive to one another, I think the world will be a much better place. In fact, one of the goals of my work at PE is to raise the consciousness of the world, which will hopefully bring people up from lower consciousness levels of hate, anger, and apathy, to higher levels of love, joy, and unconditional care for others.

However, there is still a long way for us to go, and until we live in a world where everyone is vibrating at the state of joy, we need to learn to deal with rude people as a fact of life. I know people who resorting to quitting their jobs each time they face a rude manager or rude co-workers, and guess what? It doesn’t solve the problem. What happens is that they subsequently run into this same situation in their next workplace, after which they do the same thing — quit. In the end, they become serial job hoppers; nothing changes; they still have to face such people; and they have possibly dug themselves into a worse off position, having burned bridges from their previous job(s) and having a shaky track record.

So how do we deal with rude people? Here are my best tips to do so:

1) Keep calm; Don’t lose your cool

The tricky thing about dealing with rude people is that you may feel like strangling them or beating them on the head, especially if the person is being very obnoxious and demeaning.

But I’ve found that while it may be momentarily satisfying to lash out in a moment’s anger, it’s often not worth it. Firstly, when you lose your cool, you lose control of the situation. You may feel like you’re in power, but you are no longer operating at the higher consciousness level of your mind. Next, when you lash out at the person, you may end up saying or doing something that you regret later on. People who are emotional tend to say the wrong things; even if you regret it later, it’s too late as what’s said/done can’t be retracted — especially in today’s digital age.

So no matter how angry you are, get a hold of your anger. If it’s an email communication, let it sit in your head first and get back to it at a different time. If it’s a phone conversation or a meeting, deal with it professionally with your anger parked aside. Vent it out later when you are with your friends, but don’t vent it in front of the person. While at work, conduct yourself professionally. It is telling of your ability to handle stress as well. If you can’t conduct yourself appropriately, you’re not going to earn the respect of others.

2) Don’t take it personally

When we face rude people, it’s easy for us to put the blame on ourselves. We think it’s something wrong with us, that perhaps there was some unappealing quality about us that triggered such reactions in others. Even though we might react in jest or get all riled up at the person, the person we are really upset with is ourselves.

It’s always great when you have that level of introspection, because that’s the key to growth. And in a way, I agree there’s probably something about you that made the person act that way, especially if the person is behaving that way particularly to you. However, that doesn’t mean it’s something wrong with you. The person chose to take issue with it, and that’s just how he/she is as a person. It’s his/her construct as a person, his/her beliefs, his/her values, his/her conditioning, his/her past experiences that made him/her act that way toward you. His/her rude behavior is really more about his/her story and his/her personal issues than it is about you.

So don’t self-depreciate. There’s nothing the matter with you.

On a similar note, you can also say there’s actually nothing wrong with him/her being rude too. (See Tip #5: Objectify the Situation in part-2) And that’s an accurate interpretation too. Ultimately, the interpretation you take on depends on how conscious you are and whether you are ready to take on that understanding.

3) Confront if necessary. Else, refrain from it

This one is sticky, because it depends on the situation. If you are dealing with a rude subordinate, peer, someone of equal standing – basically someone you have similar or higher authority over, it’s okay to call out the issue and bring it to his/her attention. That’s because the ball is your court. If it’s someone who has totally crossed the line in rude behavior (e.g. name calling, abuse, infringing on personal space, etc), by all means call it out regardless of whatever the position or authority the person is in. You owe it to yourself to do that.

The caveat is it might very well burn bridges and be a one-way ticket to the other side. So do it only if you have nothing to lose in the situation and you’re ready to deal with the consequences.

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However, if the situation is one where you have little bargaining power, confronting is not going to be your best option. Say, if you are a working level employee in a large corporation, such as MNCs, corporate banks and government institutions. Or you are a front-line service personnel, such as hotel staff, restaurants, cafes, customer service representatives. Or an executive in an agency managing client accounts, such as Advertising firms, PR firms, design houses). Likelihood is, it’s not in your place to confront anyone. Not only would you not solve anything, it’ll put you in a poor light. The rude person, being in a higher position, is unlikely to change his/her approach because there is simply no reason to. He/she will perpetuate the behavior (and might even worsen it) as he/she sees you as a weak link.

4) Don’t expect the rude behavior to change

Some people just like to behave in that manner. Maybe they don’t realize how rude and unpleasant their behavior is—it’s their blind spot. Maybe they are aware but they just like to boss others around. Maybe they just enjoy being *ssholes.

Realize you can’t change others. If you keep hoping that the rude person in question will have a sudden change of heart, you will be disappointed half the time. You can change your actions which may change his/her behavior, but don’t change yourself expecting him/her to change.

For example, in the first few times I interfaced with Tiff, I thought if I was nicer or acted in a different way, she would stop being so rude. However, no matter how I treated her, she would run me over like a lawn mower each time. I would emerge from each conversation feeling really ticked.

When I reflected on the situation, I realized it was because I had altered my behavior when interfacing with her, expecting that she would be nice to me in return. I was also attached to that expectation. Hence, when she continued to treat me poorly, I would feel that it was my fault.

Needless to say, this thinking was not healthy.

While I’m not saying you shouldn’t try different tacts with the rude person, I’m saying that you should not do so expecting to receive a different treatment from him/her. This will make it easier for you to manage the situation. Imagine that this rude person is never going to change his/her behavior, ever. How are you going to handle him/her? What are you going to do about his/her rudeness?

Continue on to Part 2: How to Deal with Rude People – Tips #5 – #10

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