How To Deal With Rude People – Co-Workers, Associates, Customers, Managers, etc

This is part 1 of the series on how to deal with rude people – especially your co-workers, associates, customers and managers.

Rude People

I rarely deal with rude people in my life. Whenever I encounter someone rude, I 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 a client. While you can choose not to work with the person, the decision might jeopardize your livelihood and credentials, something which you may not have the luxury to do.

Rude People

There’s this person (a client, actually) I’ve been interfacing with, whom I’ll refer to as Tiff (not real name). Tiff is possibly the rudest person I’ve ever encountered. For perspective, I have a very high threshold for what’s considered rude or not. I also rarely get angry at people, unless they’re highly unreasonable. Even when others think of a certain behavior as rude, I tend to see it as neutral. Back in my previous workplace, I experienced many communications and exchanges which would easily be regarded by outsiders as “rude”, but I never thought they were rude. I saw them as direct and frank, but no, not rude.

Hence, when I say Tiff is rude, trust that she really is rude. When I first knew her in Day 1, I was slightly miffed by her attitude. Details aside, let’s say she’s not the most respectful person in the world. For example, she would raise her voice and lose her temper, was unsupportive with requests, often used authority as a push factor to get things done (something unnecessary), and was overall disrespectful. What was the most stumping was one of my male colleagues (younger than me) met her, and she was really quite the nice lady to him. We could only guess why. For some reason, Tiff’s special treatment seemed reserved for me (at least from what we’ve seen of her toward others).

Now, some people may just tell me to lose this customer. I see the merit behind such a recommendation, especially being one to recommend others to let go of people who do not fit you (e.g. tip #4 in dealing with dishonest people article, tip #5 in dealing with energy vampires, and in my article on breaking away from K.) However, as a start-up, I value every business opportunity I get, and this is no different. I’m not about to let go of an ongoing business deal over someone like that – it’s not worth it.

How many of you face this similar situation? Not in a business/client relationship per-se, but a situation where you need to deal with a disrespectful/rude co-worker/team member/manager/associate/partner/customer/client even though you’d rather not deal with him/her if you can have your way. In my workshops, many participants have told me they face such an issue in their work.

Learn to deal with rude people

You know what? I really empathize with you. You are a good person, it’s not fair, you deserve better, and life is giving you the short end of the stick. However, what’s fair, and what’s not? It’s good to want everything to be peachy and for your co-workers to be nice, but the fact is that’s just not how things are. And it’s not healthy to expect everyone in your life to be like that too. For every 1 rude person you encounter, there are going to be 10,000s out there who are just like the person. You are only going to make yourself incredibly frustrated if you expect everyone in life to be nice and friendly.

I know people who resort to quitting their jobs each time they face a rude manager or rude colleagues/clients. What happens is they run into the same situation in their next workplace, which vexes them even more. It just turns them into serial job hoppers. In the end, nothing has changed, they still have to face such people, and they possibly put themselves in a worse off position having burned bridges from their previous job and having a shaky job history record.

Rude people at work is very real and this situation is not going anywhere. Thus, the question is this – How can we deal with such people better?

Here are my best tips on how to do so:

1) Don’t lose your cool

Seriously. It’s one thing to consciously lose your cool so you elicit an intended response from the person. It’s another thing to lose your cool because you’ve really lost your cool. You’ll end up creating a dent in your own image. You are also unable to bring your points coherently and might end up saying something you regret later on. Someone who is emotional usually winds up saying the wrong things.

No matter how angry you are, get a hold of the 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.

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.

Image: Finger tips

  • http://www.joshuanoerr.com Joshua Noerr

    Celes, whenever someone raises their voice at me, I make a conscious decision to lower mine. Matching them will only cause the situation to escalate further.

    I also use a lot of questions to the person who is being rude. There are two reasons I do this, 1) Whoever is asking questions is in control of the conversation, and 2) I hope that they will see that what they are doing is not necessary.

    Thanks for the post, and I look forward to your book.

    • http://personalexcellence.co/blog/ Celes

      Joshua, I love your questioning method. I use that as well as it steers the conversation where you want it to. Furthermore, it helps to introduce some breathing space into the conversation too.

  • http://evolutionyou.net/ Dena

    Hello Celes!

    I happen to work in a very “customer-facing” role. In my case, however, I work at an association so my customers are actually members. The other unique thing about my position is that I work direct.y with volunteer members. My association has about 1500 volunteers and it is my job to manage & support all 1500 of them. ;)

    As you can imagine.. I have some challenging days. Having been in this role for about three years now, I’ve seen it all. Your advice is really great. In my experience, the two most critical elements to dealing with rude people are:

    1. Take nothing personally

    and

    2. Just let it go and answer with a kind, smile.

    While this approach may seem passive, it yields the best results. My theory is always to let the other person keep the bad karma. I don’t need it. :)

    • http://personalexcellence.co/blog/ Celes

      Dena, thanks so much for sharing your experience. :D 1,500 people is a huge group! Would you care to share with everyone your personal tips on letting go of the bad experiences? Many people face difficulty letting go of the negative experiences (even though they consciously know it’s not healthy)

    • Beth

      Dena:

      I was lucky to have found your comment here. I am the park manager of an over 55 association with approximately 550 people, 293 homes. I am receiving a lot of hateful, angry comments from a couple of board members who are displaying their attitude in public and at board meetings. The three board memebrs used to be my biggest supporters until I was promoted as manager, which the three voted for, Four months into my new position, I fired a maintenance man, which one of the three was very protective and had written a 2 page probationary letter over in 2007. This guy had serious working and personal issues but these guys are seriously angry and hateful toward me and that seems to have triggered it. There was a board meeting held and things got so bad at the meeting that I ended up walking out. Residents/members were there and were a[paled at their behavior. We just had another board meeting and I was resolved to not let them get to me so I smothered them with kindness.

      This is my first encounter with this degree of hate and anger and I am getting worn out. I know these three want me out because they want to go back to a self managed park. My contract is up December 3first and they are walking around telling people that I will not be there in Janaury, then they are going to fire Rick (my new maintenance worker that I hired) and hire the old maintenance worker back. They have lost respect from their friends over their outbursts.

      I was wondering if you have ever run into this type of situation at your association. Working in an associations, as I’m sure you know, is like working in a virtual emotional melting pot, if you haven’t experienced it, it is very hard to imagine how draining and weary it can make you.

      I would appreciate any feedback that you can give me.

      Beth

  • Georzetta

    I spend most of my time in a very large electric wheelchair. People with disabilities tend to make people without disabilities nervous. I have run into countless people who would be considered rude within the disabilities community but, more often than not, they are just ignorant or confused. They either don’t know what to say or don’t know that what they’re saying is insulting by modern standards. Many times I have been called “crippled” by older relatives. No harm is meant.

    Our social values and especially, our language, has changed rapidly in the last 50 years. Many folks have been left behind. I I know there are those within the disabilities community who react strongly to any implied slight. I gave that up years ago.

    As you say in your blog, someone’s rudeness tells you more about them than it does about yourself. It is terribly important to remember that rudeness is subjective. Reacting with hostility and anger every time we experience a perceived insult will only make people more nervous not more comfortable.

    There are those of us with disabilities who would say that it is not our job to make other people comfortable with us. I agree with that up to a point. It is also not our job to educate an entire culture on appropriate behavior and language overnight. At some point, common courtesy must kick in. We must allow people to be people. Our lessons to those outside the disabilities community will sometimes be loud and aggressive but, as a rule, should be gently delivered in appropriate circumstance..

  • charmaine

    excellent article Celes, it helps me to solve my question. Thank you. : )

  • Jerome De Porres

    Thanks for the wonderful post Celes. Personally, I do not talk much with people who are very rude in their speech and deeds. I always maintain a greater silence when people are rude to me or when I encounter with someone at my office who are not capable to explaining thinks in a positive way.

    Sometimes silence is the most appropriate answer. When we also tries to mach our mood with rude people, we will also fall into his/her situation. It is our duty to let the person cool down and then to start sharing our opinions. I think this would be a better way…

    Anyway, thanks for your wonderful Articles and it helps us alot personally and professionally.

  • http://www.prolificliving.com/blog/ Farnoosh

    Celes, you are too young to be so wise and I am too old not to follow these rules. I work at a large technology corporation and have been here for 11 years – I am far more removed than I used to be (I was very focused and engaged in my early days) and boy have I met with rude back-stabbing untrust-worthy people along the path – I have not handled it well and I have some regrets. I think your advice is pure and logical and it takes the high road but I do think it is well worth the elimination of these people in our life. I have walked out of teams and organizations with rude managers and I would probably not be the saint that you are with your client – but because I feel so convinced, I am going to try your advice, thank you for being such a bright light, dear Celes!

    • http://personalexcellence.co/blog/ Celes

      Hey Farnoosh, you’re right! I found it’s a lot to do with how we evaluate the situation. Does the benefits of staying on in the relationship outweigh the cons? Or does the cons outweigh the benefits? If the person is way out of line, then there’s really no point in continuing on – it’s better to just eliminate the person and move on.

  • http://www.confident-woman.com.au/confident-woman/2009/11/13/mardi-dean-self-confidence-guilt-has-gone.html Rachel Green

    Hi Celes,

    It is so good to see you saying “Don’t expect the rude behavior to change”. Bravo! Thanks. If we get angry or frustrated in return we are just harming ourselves we are not changing the other person.

    I have a little motto, “Don’t let their bad hair day become my bad hair day!”

    I also am not willing to hand my happiness over to rude people, I leave their anger and rudeness with them, it’s theirs not mine. It helps me to do this by thinking about the bad things that must have happened to them to make them this way, and how bad they must be feeling inside about themselves, :-D
    Blessings
    Rachel Green
    Confident Woman Australia

  • John

    Thanks alot Celes. I’m working my way up to a career studying at lunch and breaks. Having the most powerful energy to do alot of work at the office I’m at, because I have direction and a goal. But recently I found myself, like I was back in highschool or something having a coworker really have it out for me, maybe jealousy dunno, he seems to have his own issues.

    I’m trying to stay away from him, and even have to work a little more than what i’m supposed too, just to get thru my day. But for some reason, what sucks, he would literally leave obstacles in my way in the morning to try to get at me, with I happy laugh off to how this grown man is acting. The manager has no action to him apparently babies him. So of course I wont be staying long, They are actually making me study harder to make my dream to a reality.

    This post really came in the right time.. thought I’d post my situation, because it sound so unreal, I could not confront him personally, this person seems to have this really bad negative energy that makes you literally shake in anger. But he’s not worth it, and I need the job right now.

    • http://personalexcellence.co/blog/ Celes

      Thanks for sharing John! I’m sorry to hear about your situation. It’s not easy, but trust that you’re not alone. All of us face rude nuggets too (me as well, as I’ve shared in the article). The tips have helped me, so hopefully you’ll find them useful for your situation. I’ll be posting part-2 shortly with more tips on how to handle such people.

  • http://www.mylifechanges.com Terry

    Great post. And it’s so true that people will change jobs to avoid working beside the biggest jerk, or brown noser. Then they find it worse at the next company. I’ve dealt with a few large egos myself lately, and managed to handle it with grace and calm. Isn’t always easy but “I am the master of my life” Especially my internal life. :-D

    • http://personalexcellence.co/blog/ Celes

      Hey Terry, that’s really fantastic :D Is there anything you do that helps you deal with such people calmly?

  • Pingback: How To Deal With Rude People – Part 2

  • meimei

    i have met some co worker at work, he has been working in the company for 4+ years and being a new worker, i have some question to ask him, and he rudely reply me that why cant i see that he is busy and trying to so call ‘scold’ me through email when he was just siting not far away from me, my supervisor also talk to me rudely and i dont understand why, so i try my very best not to talk to them and just by asking a simple question, my supervisor will reply to me rudely, why cant i deserve the basic repect from people? that company really suck to the hell and seem like everyone in the company just look down on me, i bear with it and finally i did change my job and my current job, the people are nice and they keep on encourage me. so is really important to have good co workers, if not your working life can be miserable.

    • husein

      i suffered from the same problem but i could not get good people at another place.
      i feel good for you.
      husein

  • http://www.confident-woman.com.au/confident-woman/2009/11/13/mardi-dean-self-confidence-guilt-has-gone.html Rachel Green

    … And it is really important not to tolerate bullying in the workplace, (or anywhere), fabulous that you had the courage to leave Meimei. I am so glad you have found somewhere better. :-D
    Rachel.

    • http://personalexcellence.co/blog/ Celes

      Hey Rachel, thanks a lot for your encouraging comments :D Feel free to use the reply button directly under each comment if you’d like to reply to the specific comment – it’ll nest underneath :D

  • http://happinesshunters.com Petteri

    Interesting topic Celes.

    I always think that people who have rude obviously have some problems in their life. Why would someone whose self-confidence and happiness are at a very high level be rude to other people around him or her?

    That makes me feel compassion toward the person more than anything else and helps me to avoid giving a rude or angry response.

    If taking the whole situation lightly and being nice doesn’t help, the next thing I do is to ignore the whole person and focus on something else. Life is full of positive and nice things, so it is up to me to decide what I focus my energy on.

    Cheers!

  • Pingback: How To Deal With Rude People – Part 3

  • http://www.myspace.com/culturalgarden Nancy Noder

    I looked up how to deal with criticism and rude behaviour this evening because I went to visit my youngest daughter to give her an invitation. My middle daughter was helping my grandson to write. I suggested that since he is 6 that she draw lines on the paper to make it easy for him to direct his writing. She said it wasn’t necessary but my grandson insisted it was because “that is what they do at school”, so she drew lines. The next minute, I asked my grandson a question and she started shouting at me telling me I was asking him stupid questions; that he should be doing his homework; that my behaviour was childish, and really going on. At first I thought she was joking but when she persisted I noticed how serious she was, and I started to feel quite uncomfortable with her shouting so vehmently to me in front of my grandson. To be honest, I thought it was disrespectful on reflection, but I said nothing but got up, kissed my daughter goodbye and left without saying anything to the offending daughter. After reading your comment on dealing with people who are critical, I did introspect and wondered what her behaviour reminded me of, and believe it is because I have always been criticised by members of my family and have said nothing .
    This time I sent her a text asking her not to disrespect me in front of my son again, and that she could have called me to one side if she had a problem with me interrupting his homework time. She wrote an abrupt text reinforcing that I was childish and rude. I decided to google critical behaviour and came across your site, thankfully, which said reward criticism with kindness not criticism because it can create a dent in the relationship. So I texted her and said she had mentioned she was tired and that she should rest and wished her good night. I am not sure what the outcome will be, but as soon as I sent those words of kindness, I felt so much better.
    It is probably difficult to deal with criticsim from one’s child, but nevertheless, I accept that her crticism nothwithstanding had validity from a certain perspective but I am not going to beat myself up about it.

    • Jon

      You sound like a nice person.

    • xy

      You are giving your daughter extra work by telling her to draw lines, and she is probably feeling way too stretched and tired already with parenting responsibilities. Your initial comment may have suggested she could be doing a better job than she was doing – next time, offer to draw the lines yourself, ask her if it is OK.

  • Dave

    I think the Zen Master Swayze covered this with 3 rules .

    One, never underestimate your opponent..expect the unexpected;
    Two, take it outside, never start anything inside the bar unless it’s absolutely necessary; and Three…be nice… until is time to not be nice.

    This seems to cover the bulk of this article.

    • Kamal

      You got it. Thanks for the info

  • http://www.likeateam.com Dale Roach

    I have found that this is one of greatest challenges that faces any business, volunteer team and even church organizations. Thanks for the article.

  • Ted Wood

    I have an (soon-to-be ex-) employer with a double-standard view on the world. She has rules that she expects her staff to follow, but doesn’t follow these rules herself. I know my future has a void where there was once a job that I truly enjoy and do well at, but I’d rather choose the void and fill it with something that I’m happier with than continue to restrain myself from feeling the way that I do while on the job. I am grateful from the lessons that I’ve learned during this short-lived job and I need to focus on the positive aspects of it and grow from them, rather than knock myself down for missteps that I made. I don’t deserve to lose this job, but I know that’s my fate. So holding on to the right attitude and a healthy perspective, and recognizing the places where I’ve been presented with a lesson, are the things I need to do.

  • Mcdiva

    I too have practiced these tips with a certain coworker who is very negative and rude. I find it interesting that this coworker often vents to me about other coworkers being so rude to her. She will complain and claim that she used to be rude but her husband helped her be nicer. FYI if she is so called nicer I’d hate to have known her before.

  • joyce bridges

    I get a e-mail from some I haven’t since in years and sends me a ad on being fat and losing weight which started with a friend of her’s here in the same state I am I don’t understand?

    • George

      Their email was probably hacked… That is, they probably did not purposely send you the ad.

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