5 strategies for dealing with rudeness
Someone was rude to me last week. I was upset. So obviously I set up a LinkedIn poll to ask people how they deal with rudeness.
Based on 80 votes, many comments and my own research on ethics, I present to you 5 main strategies for coping. I hope one of them might be of help.
Strategy 1 - Ignore Them
Stoics like Marcus Aurelius said that we can’t control what other people do, but we can control how we react. We mustn’t allow our own wellbeing to depend on things said by others.
My mate from the office Lizzy said something similar:
‘If you don't have to deal with them all the time, it's not worth your energy to confront them.’
44 % of the poll participants agree with Lizzy.
I feel like it’s not so easy to actually do. Orion backs me up in the comments.
Orion has ‘legal’ in his title and his comment is well-referenced. He suggests reading a book by Wallace called ‘I Can’t Believe You Just Said That: The truth about why people are SO rude’. I’ve just finished reading it and can’t recommend it enough to anyone who still ponders the questions of rudeness after reading this 4-minute blog.
The book referenced a study titled ‘The Impact of Rudeness on Medical Team Performance’, which highlights how people who work in stressful situations have their cognitive functions altered after a rude incident. Rudeness can physically derail us in the short term and lower our immune system long term.
Ignoring it is (officially) hard but what else can be done?
Strategy 2 – Confront Them
This is the second most popular strategy in my poll with 36% of votes.
‘I remind them they are not treating others with respect.’ – says Pankaj in the comments.
‘Ask them to explain why they are being rude and what being rude to someone makes them feel like.’ – says George.
I often fantasise about how I would confront people.
Imagining it makes me feel both empowered and nervous. Empowered because it feels great to respond to injustice. The point about rudeness is that it always feels so unfair.
I am nervous because I fear I would say things that can’t be unsaid. Or that people will see that I am emotional and see it as a weakness.
Then I wonder what would happen if no one ever stood up for anything. I won’t be quiet if someone is rude to my team or my friends, why not extend the same support to myself?
Strategy 3 – Change Focus
Sylvia, after witnessing this strategy working effectively on a plane, recommended changing the focus, ‘kinda like you do with screaming children’.
I really like this one. I will try to apply it to others and myself. Instead of contemplating how to respond to a rude email, plant some basil in empty jars for example.
Perhaps while doing so we can consider Aristotle’s saying from the Nichomachean Ethics (probably my favourite book on ethics):
‘What is terrible is not the same to all people’
Maybe that person didn’t mean to be rude. Maybe there is a cultural difference.
Maybe we can change the focus to one aspect of that person that we like or one value that we share and build the relationship from there.
Strategy 4 – Kill them with Kindness
If you want to respond, it can be done in a non-confrontational way.
Anne-Marie’s strategy is to kill them with kindness.
‘They don’t know how to respond and 99 times out of 100 end up responding with kindness.’
Siena says: ‘Be overly polite to the point that it's over the top.’
However, one time I told a rude person ‘are you alright?’ with a concerned look and she looked even more livid. Perhaps because my ‘alright’ wasn’t very genuine..
Strategy 5 – Be Compassionate
Lizzy from the office always tries to better me. Sometimes it’s by literally bringing me fruit all the way from our fruit basket, sometimes it’s by telling me to be more patient.
‘Some people might have some stuff going on behind the scenes that's making them behave rudely. Nine times out of ten it's not you, it's them!’ – she says.
Lizzy is right.
Things are tough, particularly now. Goodness knows what people have going on in their homes. Many of us have lost people we love. From what we know of what’s happening to the economy, we can assume that all of us are affected in one way or another.
We don’t feel in control of this situation, we don’t feel in control of our future.
Perhaps we should just be more forgiving of rudeness. Not ignoring it but seeing it as a sign that people are struggling.
I want to say a special thank you to the 3 people who chose ‘run away and cry’ as their coping strategy. This poll was done during mental health awareness week and it’s OK to say that we’ve been there!
After experiencing mild rudeness from 1 person last week, I was comforted by almost a hundred people giving advice and sharing stories.
Thanks y’all. Wishing you a rudeness-free week!
Networking Gone Wrong is a project that was set up to share stories of professionals behaving badly so we can all learn how to behave ethically.
Our new course on online ethics covers etiquette for social networks and unconscious bias online. Each session is tailored to your goals and challenges. Like everything nowadays, it is delivered via Zoom.