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.

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