How to Deal with Rude People – Part 2

This is part 2 of my series on how to deal with rude people – especially your co-workers, associates, customers and managers. Be sure to read Part 1: Tips #1 to 4 first if you haven’t.

5) Objectify the situation

Is the person being really rude? Or could you be misinterpreting his/her actions? Even if the person is indeed out of the line, could your emotions be making the situation appear worse than it really is?

Sometimes people are rude because that’s how they are. It may be some tough callus they erect to protect themselves. It could be their results-oriented mentality that makes them neglect others’ emotions. It could be their way of exerting their worth to others. It’s who they are as people (Tip #2) rather than anything to do with you.

For some, they could very well be unaware that they are being rude. For example, a few years ago I was at a company Chinese New Year lunch with a team of about 20 people, including the upper management, managers, people from other functions, and the working team. Since I was the only vegetarian at the table, I stood out like a sore thumb. Everyone was sharing the meat dishes while I was going for the vegetables.

One of my co-workers asked me in front of other colleagues why I was a vegetarian. I told her that I am not interested in consuming sentient beings (ability to feel), and she quipped sarcastically in front of everyone: “Oh so, plants can’t feel? What if there’s research that proves plants have feelings too? What are you going to eat then?” Then she burst out into laughter.

I was flabbergasted by her lack of tact. While it was clearly not done in good taste, I didn’t think much about it. When I put this incident into perspective by considering what I do know about her from us working together, it was clear that incident was more of a blind spot than something that happened out of maliciousness.

We have the tendency to aggravate situations, especially when it hurts us. It’s important that we don’t see things from a tinted lens and blow them out of proportion. Be fair in our judgment of others. Here are some ways to do that:

  1. Vent your anger by brain dumping or talking to a friend. This will help to remove emotional grievances which may cloud your thinking.
  2. Now, step out of your shoes and analyze the incident as a third party.
  3. Ask yourself: If someone else was in your place during the incident, would the ‘rude’ person have treated him/her the same way? If it’s a yes, then that’s probably just how the person is.
  4. Observe how the ‘rude’ person treats others normally. Does he/she treat others the same way too? If it’s a yes, then again, chances are that’s just how he/she is.
  5. Talk to a friend about it and listen to his/her analysis. It should provide an added perspective.

6) Use a selective response system

There’s no rule that you must respond to rude people. In fact, silence can be a very good response, as attested by reader Jerome:

“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 things 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…”

If it’s a 1-1 conversation, it may be tough/awkward to ignore someone. My recommendation is to help the rude person learn how to communicate with you through behavioral conditioning. When he/she is rude to you, simply ignore the comments. Don’t respond, give lukewarm replies, or just play deaf. On the other hand, when the person treats you with some decency, respond in kind. Be enthusiastic and earnest in helping. If the person is smart, he/she will start to play by ear and treat you properly.

One of my friends back in school was very tactless. She would make jokes at the expense of others. Some people found her rude and overbearing. When I was with her, she would make flippant jokes at my expense too. At first I put up with it, but after a while I got tired and just ignored her whenever she did it. While it was awkward at first, after a while she got the idea and stopped doing it.

7) Understand why the person is rude

If the person is specifically rude to you, there must be some reasons driving that behavior. While it may seem like the person is all out to get you and make your life miserable, there has to be some trigger for that (be it subconscious or conscious). Why is the person acting this way to you? Why is this person being such a jerkface? If you understand why, it will very well help in your future interactions with the person and people like him/her.

For example, when I thought about my situation with T, I gathered that she was treating me poorly possibly because:

  • a) I’m a female (she was very polite to my male staff)
  • b) I was much younger than her (seniority might be important to her)
  • c) I was not important to her (and her goals)
  • d) She didn’t respect me (might be due to a) and b) combined)

One of my friends suggested that maybe it’s because I’m younger and more attractive and she saw me as competition (with regards to guys). While I think that’s quite amusing, I really do not think that’s the case (it’ll be very unprofessional and silly if it is).

When people are rude to others, it’s usually because they deem the person as “less worthy” or of a “lower importance.” That’s why we get angry with people who are rude to us. No one likes to be seen as not important. If you don’t care how this person treats you, that’s fine. But what if you work with this person closely and you want this behavior to stop? (see next tip)

8 ) …then address those reasons

Since the reasons in Tip #7 are triggers for the rude behavior, addressing them will reverse the rude behavior. Obviously there will be factors you can’t address. For example, in my case I can’t change the fact that I’m female or that I’m younger (not that I’m not interested to change that either)! Outside of that, you can address the other factors. For me, factors c) and d) are a matter of correcting the perception. These can be fixed through Tip #10: Increasing your importance to them.

9) Ask the person how you can help

I do believe rude people are rude because they have a lot of angst and negativity built up inside. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is just ask: “Is there anything I can do to help?” or “What can I do to help you?” You’ll be surprised at how they will stop tensing up and become more open.

Reader Joshua has the same feedback too:

“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.”

10) Elevate your authority with the person

Rude behavior usually arises because the person doesn’t respect your authority (see Tip #7 above). If the person really thinks that you are good and recognizes your importance, he/she wouldn’t be rude. For example, most cases of rude behavior in companies are toward junior staff and the rank and file because they are seen as having less authority.

Increase your importance and the person will have reason to play nice(r). It doesn’t mean that you should do this for this person, but that you simply want to improve your standing and make life easier for yourself. How to do that:

  • Be a valuable asset. Increase the value you offer. Deliver your best performance such that you are an indispensable force. Be consistent in your work. Contribute where you can. Keep finding ways to add more value each time.
  • Understand what’s important to the person. What’s important to the person? What does he/she value the most? Focus on them. For example, if the person values effectiveness, being effective will make him/her more appreciative of you. With T, I observe her key value is getting the job done, so rather than be bothered by her lack of tact I focused on that same aim too. This helped our communication flow better.
  • Get to know people with authority. In an organization, aligning yourself with people of higher positions helps increase your leverage. If someone is making life difficult for you where you work, it’s good to know more senior people who can help you. Of course I’m not saying to align yourself with them for the sake of this only; you should be genuinely interested in being friends with them, their well-being, and offering value to the relationship.

Continue on to Part 3: How to Deal with Rude People – Tips #11 – #16