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The power of politeness: 10 ways to deal with rude people

February 3, 2023 - 18 min read

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Rudeness vs. bullying

3 ways to respond to rude behavior

How to deal with rude people at work

Why does rudeness have such a big impact in the workplace?

How to deal with rude people at school

How to deal with rude people at home

Eliminate toxicity

Life would be grand if we all got along. 

Unfortunately, that’s not how the world works. You’ll inevitably encounter people who irk you in life, whether they ruffle your feathers or make you downright angry.

Rude people are frustrating when you can’t get away from them. Their negativity might diminish your upbeat attitude and interrupt your everyday life. But with some mindfulness and tact, you can navigate these difficult relationships with ease.

We’ll tell you how to deal with rude people, whether you’re at work, home, or school.

 

Rudeness vs. bullying

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between bullying and rudeness. 

Rudeness isn’t always as explicit as bullying. It often manifests through passive behaviors, such as: 

  • Excluding someone from an important email
  • Not inviting a person to a get-together
  • Ignoring someone’s question or point in a meeting
  • Not praising subordinates 

Bullying, in contrast, is usually intentional and explicit. The perpetrators are repeatedly aggressive. They’ll likely single out one person to be the object of their negativity. Their actions create an imbalance of power where the victim feels unsafe speaking up.

Rudeness can teeter into bullying if unresolved tensions grow between individuals. It can also negatively affect productivity and cloud decision-making. It also might make you feel backed into a corner where your only option is to be rude in return.

That’s why it’s essential to stamp out toxic behavior before it becomes a regular occurrence. Group leaders, managers, and superiors must foster an environment where people feel safe discouraging rude behavior. 

Rude people can also be active in their tactics. For instance, it’s rude to: 

Learning how to deal with a mean person at work is challenging, especially if their actions aren’t intentionally mean-spirited. If you’re new to a workplace or hold an entry-level position, you might feel particularly overwhelmed reporting behavior or addressing it directly with the bully.

Whether it’s rudeness or bullying, the effect is the same: victims lose confidence and their self-esteem takes a hit. Luckily, you can overcome this toxicity.

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3 ways to respond to rude behavior

Rude people are everywhere. Toxic behaviors are pervasive in all sorts of social interactions. Your environment gives you different tools for dealing with toxic people. But whether it’s a classmate, colleague, or rude customer, there are some general guidelines you can follow. You can use these strategies as a starting point to develop your own solutions, too.

1. Try kindness

You can’t prevent other people’s bad behavior, but you can control your reactions. Take a deep breath and be calm instead of snapping back. Later on, try responding with an act of kindness.

Doing so could break the cycle of rudeness by allowing the other person to match your behavior.

If this tactic doesn’t work, you can still be proud you didn’t succumb to negativity. You kept a cool head, stuck to your values, and took the high road. That shows a growth mindset.

2. Remember, it’s not about you

A difficult person’s behavior is precisely that: their behavior. They could have chosen kindness, but they didn’t. You did nothing to deserve their hostility or negative vibes, so try to deflect the rudeness and not take it in. 

Here are a few ways to calm down after someone’s negative behavior affects you:

  1. Distract yourself: Clear your mind by running, listening to some music, or enjoying ten deep breaths. If you’re in public or the workplace when this happens, mindful breathing and short meditation exercises will help recenter you.
  2. Grab and throw: Use your hands to pull energy from your body and throw it away. This symbolic action can help clear your head and provide anxiety relief.
  3. Recite affirmations: If someone put you down, use positive affirmations to remind yourself you know who you are — and that you’re pretty great.
  4. Assert responsibility: Remember that such behavior isn’t about you. It’s a reflection of the other person’s character and insecurities.
  5. Swipe left: If you’re running into mean people on social media, remember that anonymity makes some people feel empowered to act with animosity. Block. Mute. Ignore.

3. Show empathy

Empathy is one of the most positively recognized social skills in any environment. Empathizing with others makes them feel safe and understood. And practicing empathy with a rude person may positively impact both of you by turning the mood of the interaction on its head. 

If someone is being difficult, try to see it from their point of view. Don't assume they’re inherently rude. Maybe they’re having a bad day, struggling with a difficult situation outside of work, or neurodivergent and having difficulty navigating social interaction. Acknowledging their struggles will make them less hostile and you less hurt by their behavior. 

Remember that the other person’s rudeness isn’t your burden to bear. If they match your empathy with more incivility, don’t feel bad about bowing out of the interaction.

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How to deal with rude people at work: 3 tips

Things can get tricky when rude people confront us in a work environment. In most cases, we can define “rude” as toxic behaviors that don’t rise to the level of “bullying” in corporate policies. In this case, either the office culture or the victim is left responsible for stopping rudeness in its tracks.

The key thing to remember is that work cultures start at the top, with people who avoid toxic leadership traits and prevent the formation of hostile work environments

Strong leaders build healthy workplaces where everyone is valued and respected. Here are three tactics to try if you encounter rude coworkers:

1. Avoid escalating the situation

Retaliation is rarely a good idea, especially in the workplace. Being rude back only increases toxicity. Before, there was only one rude person, but there will be two if you behave the same way. 

Plus, toxicity can be contagious. A hostile response normalizes rude behavior and encourages others to adopt destructive behavior that impacts relationships across the organization. No one wants to work in an environment where rudeness is the accepted way of doing business.

2. Be a role model

Taking the high road is always better than being vengeful. Kindness communicates to your coworkers how you expect them to treat you, assuming you’re in a healthy work environment.

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By setting an example, others may start imitating you and your polite way of interacting with others. Rather than contributing to an environment of discontent and insubordinate attitudes, eventually, the bandwagon will be so full of kindness that there won’t be space for rudeness.

3. Stay away

Sometimes it’s best to walk away. Of course, this isn’t always possible. But if you’re in a large office and don’t work with this person regularly, you might be able to minimize your time around them.

The best way to avoid rude people is to meet their acts of rudeness with kindness and then remove yourself from their presence. If you can’t do this and can’t walk away, try grey rocking, which involves acting as unresponsive as possible like avoiding eye contact or not showing emotions when conversing.

Why does rudeness have such a big impact in the workplace?

Office workers typically spend 1/3 of their day in the office. That’s a lot of time spent with your colleagues. And even if you’re working from home, you’re still connected to Slack, Zoom, and email. Constantly dealing with rude people will have a lasting impact on your mood and workplace satisfaction. 

Here’s how workplace rudeness affects organizations:

1. Less motivation among employees

If you struggle to clock in because of rude coworkers, you’re not alone. Employees dealing with managers, peers and colleagues, or customers that treat them poorly are more likely to underperform and withdraw from the job. 

“Quiet quitting” describes employees that remain at a workplace but are actively disengaged and doing the bare minimum. According to a 2022 Gallup poll, approximately 50% of the U.S. workforce consists of quiet quitters. Mitigating rudeness among employees could help reduce this number.

2. Lower team performance

The person on the receiving end of rudeness isn’t the only one impacted — colleagues who witness disrespect also have lower performance levels. A lack of civility dissolves workers’ belief in the company’s values, chips away at their loyalty and satisfaction, and impacts how teams work together.

According to researchers at MIT, communication is one of the largest indicators of successful teamwork. Their study tracked how workers communicated outside of formal meetings and found that the energy and engagement individuals provided contributed to 1/3 of their overall performance. 

The bottom line: the most talented workers will perform poorly if no one communicates positively and effectively.

3. Decreased creativity

People feel comfortable sharing their ideas when they know their work is valued. When managers regularly show gratitude to their employees, this uplifts teams’ sense of self-worth and confidence, in turn encouraging them to share their most innovative suggestions. 

Managers aren’t the only ones responsible for stimulating creativity — so are team members. Supportive, excited, and respectful team members incentivize everyone to work creatively.

How to deal with rude people at school

Most of the advice above applies at school, too. But here are a couple of tips that can work specifically in these environments.

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Use humor. A good joke can help break the tension. Look for a way to laugh about a shared experience. After all, laughter is the best medicine — especially when it comes to rude people.

Call them out. You can confront an individual without being mean. Let them know that they’re being rude and how it makes you feel. It’s possible the person doesn’t realize the impact of their behavior. Give them a chance to apologize and be more polite.

How to deal with rude people at home

Home is our safe space. When we invite people over, we hope they will accept our home as an extension of who we are. But when a guest makes snide comments about our furniture or insults our cooking, it can feel particularly hurtful. 

Here are some things to try if you’re unsure of how to deal with a mean person at home:

Focus on the other guests. Don’t let one rude comment prevent you from enjoying your time with your friends. Focus on kind friends, and not rude guests. Make an effort to have a good time. If the rude person feels excluded, they might come around to being nice.

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Have a conversation with the person. If the person won’t stop being rude and your other anti-rudeness tactics fail, talk to the person after the party. Feel free to stop inviting them to your home if they aren’t receptive to your efforts to make peace. You deserve to have more positive people in your space.

Lay it out clearly. If the person being rude is a close friend or loved one you can’t (or don’t want to) cut out of your life, let them know their behavior isn’t acceptable and is causing strains on the relationship that could have long-term consequences.

Set boundaries. Feel free to stop inviting them to your home if they aren’t receptive to your efforts to make peace. You deserve to have more positive people in your space.

Eliminate toxicity

You deserve better than having rude people around you, and aren’t obligated to keep rude people in your life. Your space is yours to fill with anyone you like. 

Negative energy also holds organizations back and keeps employees from reaching their full potential. Learning to handle conflict and remain positive despite negativity helps everyone involved. 

Now that you know more about how to deal with rude people, you're ready to start enjoying more positive interactions.

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Published February 3, 2023

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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