Rudeness is everywhere—maybe a stranger cut you off in traffic, a coworker shut the door in your face, or a loved one snapped at you for “not cleaning up after yourself” when you had left the knife on the edge of the sink on purpose in case you wanted to make another sandwich later.
Facing a rude person can be intimidating! In a moment, we’ll take a look at how to do that, but first, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about what rudeness is.
What Makes a Person Rude and Disrespectful?
People are rude and disrespectful when they act impolite, inconsiderate, or mean towards someone else. There can be many root causes for rudeness, such as insecurity or fear.
People are often rude after being on the receiving end of rudeness. Researchers have found that “just like the common cold, common negative behaviors can spread easily and have significant consequences.” In other words…
Rude is contagious!
It can be helpful to remember that when someone is being rude to you, it says more about them than you.
Sometimes when we encounter rude or disrespectful people, it can feel like they don’t think we’re worth being treated well. In reality, they have likely been on the receiving end of rudeness and are now “passing it along.”
“Incivility is a bug. It’s contagious. And we become carriers of it just by being around it… We can catch this virus anywhere”—Christine Porath, PhD
Why does workplace rudeness matter?
When rudeness in the workplace goes unaddressed, research finds that employees feel less motivated and less productive.
Furthermore, another study found rudeness from both customers and colleagues affects workers’ performance and withdrawal behavior (being tardy or skipping work). Sales decreased, and withdrawal behavior increased the more workers had to interact with rude people.
Not only can rudeness impact a person’s excitement about work and ability to do well at work, but it can negatively affect one’s creativity as well.
Finally, rude people are less likely to progress professionally. In this TED Talk, leadership researcher Christine Porath talks about being respectful. She draws on research to show that rudeness comes with a cost, and respect can help you move up the corporate ladder.
Nine Tips for Dealing with Rude People
With these nine tips, hopefully, you can get some inspiration and direction for dealing with the whole range of rude people you may encounter throughout the day.
Pause and ask
If someone is rude to you, immediately pause.
Don’t be offensive or rude back. Just take a breath.
First, this little pause might alert them to listen to what they just said and correct themselves. Second, it gives you a moment to stay calm and think.
Next, use a question. Rude people sometimes do not realize they are being rude, so asking can gently call their attention to it.
- Did you mean that?
- I’m not sure I understand what you are implying. Are you saying ___?
- Do you know how that comes across?
Sometimes, we forget how our actions affect others. By helping someone understand why their words or actions towards you are hurtful, you allow them to learn and grow in that moment.
In this video, an interviewer squirts water on Tom Cruise’s face while speaking. Cruise stays calm and begins asking the interviewer why he did that. He continues to talk with the man in a calm tone of voice, but Cruise also lets the man know that Cruise does not appreciate being treated that way.
He says, “I’m here giving you an interview, and you do something nasty.”
Action Step: Like we saw Tom Cruise do, ask the rude person if they realize how hurtful or offensive their behavior is, and help them understand why it was inappropriate.
Did you notice how Cruise used downward inflection and unwavering eye contact when asking if the reporter realized how rudely he had just behaved? That helped keep the situation from escalating while also demonstrating his sincerity while addressing the rudeness.
When you set boundaries, you let other people know how you will let them treat you. You are not telling them how they can or can’t act, simply what the consequences of their rude behavior will be.
Here are some examples of boundaries in response to rudeness:
With a partner, you might need to set the boundary that you will not tolerate him yelling at you during an argument. Try saying this:
“You’re allowed to be frustrated, but if you’re unable to express your frustration without yelling at me, I’m going to move to another room, and we can continue this conversation when you’re once again able to speak to me without raising your voice at me. I believe that we’ll have a more productive conversation if we don’t yell at one another, and I want us to resolve our differences.”
Or maybe you have a boss whom you have regularly asked to respect your work-life balance and not contact you by text or call during non-work hours. You could tell your boss something like this:
“While you know that I am very dedicated to my job, we’ve previously discussed that I do not want you to contact me on my cell phone during non-working hours. Please feel free to send me an email so that you don’t forget important information instead of texting or calling me. If this pattern continues and you cannot respect my time, I may need to find work elsewhere. I believe that if I have time away from work to rest, I will be able to accomplish my work responsibilities more efficiently and better when I am here.”
This helps people see that you are being reasonable while also clearly showing them what the consequences of such behavior will be.
Do you find yourself regularly dealing with rude people at work? Check out this guide to help you navigate those challenging relationships.
Action Step: When setting boundaries, use ASSA—Alert, State, Sell, and Agree. You can use this method when talking in person or sending an email or text message.
Alert: Let the person know that you want to talk with them. You might want to avoid sending a “We need to talk” text, as that can cause a lot of anxiety, resulting in the conversation being less beneficial overall. If you want to talk with them in person, try to pull them aside for a private chat. If you don’t see them often, try going through all the ASSA steps via text and offering to talk further about it if they want to do so.
State: Tell them what their behavior was that has upset you and how it made you feel.
Sell: Explain to them the benefits of respecting and treating your boundaries politely.
Agree: Ask them to agree that they will treat you differently in the future.
Lean towards warmth
Consider the last time you were rude—chances are you were experiencing stress, fatigue, or had just gotten bad news.
The same goes for everyone else. People’s lives are complex, and their rudeness likely stems from something that has gone wrong in their world around the time that they are
communicating with you. There’s a word for this—sonder.
Sonder — noun. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own, populated with their ambitions, friends, routines, worries, and inherited craziness.—Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
Sometimes the quickest way to thaw out a “cold shoulder” is with warmth. Warmth is generally associated with optimism, affection, and enthusiasm.
Here are some warm actions:
- Add your loved one’s birthdays, anniversaries, and other important dates to your calendar so you remember to wish them well.
- Do a random act of kindness for someone.
- Make eye contact and say “hi” when you see someone you know.
Fun Fact: When people are physically warm, they are more likely to show friendly character traits. For example, when research participants held a mug with a warm beverage in their hands, they were more likely to get a gift for their friend rather than themselves. The same study found that when friendly, participants were more likely to perceive others as having a friendly personality.
Action Step: When you’re in the midst of a situation dealing with someone who is being rude, try using warm nonverbal cues to show warmth.
Here are some ways to show warmth through body language:
- Nod your head while speaking. This is associated with active listening and warmth.
- Quick touches like a high-five or handshake can help you seem warmer.
- A smile that reaches the corner of your eyes increases people’s perception of your warmth.
Display your competence
In some cases, especially in the work environment, people may be rude because they doubt your ability to get the job done. While humility can be a positive trait, and everyone has the potential to grow, don’t shy away from showing your competence.
If you feel like someone is underestimating you, be kind and direct. Sometimes, calling it out helps dissipate the tension and show confidence in yourself and your abilities.
You can also work on building your confidence by keeping a folder of various accomplishments you’ve achieved. This folder might include a picture from your college graduation, an email from your boss telling you they were happy with your work on a project, or the notes from a presentation you gave that went well. It can help you to remind yourself of your competence so you can confidently advocate for yourself with others.
If a coworker is being rude to you for an extended amount of time, you may also want to pull your boss aside to let them know so they can help you navigate toxic people in your work environment.
Action Step: When people doubt your ability, it can be discouraging and shoot down your confidence. Combat that by making a folder with your accomplishments to look back at when you’re having an off day.
You can also address the person and ask for the opportunity to show your capability. Here are a few different ideas for how to do that, depending on the situation:
- “I’m so excited to be entrusted with this responsibility and put my expertise into spearheading this project.”
- While this is subtle, it shows that you have confidence in yourself and believe you are qualified for the opportunity. If questioned, you have expertise and experience you can reference because you received this opportunity.
- “X, I feel like you may be doubting my input. I base my opinion on these case studies that my team and I conducted. Do you have research that would suggest otherwise?”
- Naturally warm people can benefit from drawing on research and data to help confirm their competence and thoroughness. When you cite studies, research, or industry thought leaders. It helps show that you are doing your homework.
- “I’m excited to tackle these tasks but believe I’ll have the capacity to handle more. What else can I do to help the team succeed?”
- This is great to use if you feel your boss is underestimating you. You are offering to be a team player while also mentioning that you think people deprived you of the opportunities you would like.
You can learn more about how to show competence through your nonverbal communication by reading Cues.
Have a one-on-one
If the person being rude to you is a loved one or a colleague, you may want to wait to address their behavior in private. Being rude to you is never appropriate; however, handling the situation publicly may make them defensive and lead the situation to escalate.
When you talk with them, instead of telling them that they were being rude, try to help them understand how their actions made you feel.
For example, you might tell your partner: “When you made that joke at my expense in front of your family, I felt like you weren’t supporting me, and we weren’t a team. That hurt me a lot.” Or maybe you need to tell a colleague, “I felt like you were trying to make me look unprofessional when you said XYZ in front of our client.”
This gives them the chance to understand that they are being rude and grow in how to communicate better in the future. Although change is hard, research shows that with time and support, people can change aspects of their personality—so help people recognize when they’re being rude and be patient with them while they learn.
Action Step: Wait to address rude behavior in a one-on-one conversation.
Don’t settle for being “not rude,” instead, choose kindness
Have you ever been fighting with your significant other and realized after a few minutes that things had started to escalate? One of you felt like the other person was being rude, so they were rude back. This cycle keeps repeating and escalating, and the rude comments keep piling up.
Breaking the cycle of rudeness is hard. Lots of times, we get defensive when someone is rude to us. Survey data shows that it is natural to respond to rudeness with more rude responses.
Action Step: De-escalate tense conversations by taking on a “non-threatening” posture. Here are some examples of non-threatening body language:
- Relax your jaw.
- Take a step back from someone getting aggressive to show that you are giving them space and not matching their aggressive behavior.
- Take a confident but neutralizing stance—stand up tall with your hands out and palms up.
Give people the benefit of the doubt
In some cases, the person acting rudely may not understand the culture or “The way we do things around here” and not realize they are being rude.
For the most part, we’re all on the same page regarding what qualifies as rude and what doesn’t. People see things like cutting someone off mid-sentence, yelling at someone, or cutting someone off in traffic as rude actions.
However, some actions may be a part of cultural etiquette that can make them look as rude. For example, in Japan, putting someone’s business card in your wallet or pocket is viewed as incredibly disrespectful. In Argentina, it is rude to arrive at a social event on time—aim to arrive 30-60 minutes after the “start time.”
Action Step: Give people the benefit of the doubt. Instead of getting upset with someone for cutting you off in line or communicating poorly at work, try saying:
- “Excuse me, you may not have realized, but I’m already in line here.”
- “I know you’re pretty new to our team. Can I help you understand how we usually handle a situation like that here?”
- “I would be happy to help show you the ropes on this project. It seems like it’s making you a bit stressed out.”
If all else fails, avoid the rude person
Avoidance isn’t the best option, but sometimes you try addressing a person’s rudeness, and nothing changes. In that case, you may need to avoid the person when possible—after all, there’s no reason for them to steal your sunshine.
Action Step: Here are some ways you can avoid someone without being too obvious about it:
- At a big family function, wait until the person who is being rude to you has a chance to sit down before you find your seat. This way, you can choose a seat in a different part of the room.
- If you work with a rude coworker, adjust your lunch break to take it at a different time than they are. This way, you won’t need to get mean jabs from them while taking a break.
- If someone in your friend group is being rude to you, find out if they will be at an event before deciding if you want to go. You may also want to try making new friends and have companionship without the stress of a rude person.
Remember, someone else’s negativity does n’t define you
With the rise of the internet, we see countless “hate” comments on photos and videos. The more successful or famous someone is, the more likely that people will try to tear them down.
Celebrities like Zendaya receive a lot of this type of rudeness. Here, you can see her responding to a mean tweet on the Jimmy Kimmel show.
Zendaya turns the insult about her shoes smelling bad into a silly joke about her success. Her nonchalant mannerism gives the impression that she doesn’t care what anyone else says about her because she is confident and has decided that a rude tweet won’t be able to steal that from her.
Maybe you’ve had a relative at a family gathering say something rude to you about your appearance or a stranger in traffic flip you off. Remember, their harsh comments and negativity don’t define you.
According to research, negative comments impact us much more than positive ones—at a 5-to-1 ratio. If someone says something rude to you, take a second to affirm yourself with five positive things.
Rudeness is something you encounter often, and if you’re not careful, you’ll “catch” the rudeness and start being rude to others around you. Dealing with rude people can be stressful, but it’s important for maintaining your well-being.
Remember to use these 10 tactics for dealing with rude people:
- Let them know how you feel—Helping them realize that you’re hurt can encourage them to learn to adjust their behavior.
- Set boundaries—Boundaries are set when you let someone know what you will do if they continue to treat you a certain way. People who are chronically rude to you don’t have to get the same access to your time and energy.
- Be warm to the individual—People are complicated, and if they are being rude to you, it may come from a place of stress, exhaustion, or frustration. If someone is being uncharacteristically harsh, try showing them empathy and warmth.
- Show your competence—If someone is being rude to you in the workplace, remind them that you’re capable and skilled.
- Have a one-on-one—In some instances, one-on-one is the best way to address rude behavior. It helps the moment not escalate, and with a bit of time to reflect on the situation, you may find that the person who was rude to you may be ready to apologize and mend the relationship.
- Be kind—Kindness can be one of the quickest ways to disarm rude behavior.
- Assume the best of others—Sometimes, people are rude accidentally. They may not yet know the company culture or adjust to a new place. Offer to help them before you get upset with them.
- Avoid consistently rude people—If someone is regularly rude to you, you may want to find new routes and distance yourself from them.
- Their rudeness does not define you—A person being rude does not define who you are. As hard as it can be, try to affirm yourself and keep going with your day.
Everyone has an off day from time to time. Be quick to apologize for your rudeness when you realize that you’ve snapped at your partner, made a joke that didn’t land well in a work meeting, or stood up a friend for a coffee date.
Are any of the rude people in your life passive-aggressive? Check out these 4 strategies for dealing with passive-aggressive people well.