If you’ve ever driven during rush-hour traffic or waded through a crowded store, you know all too well that rude people are everywhere. Whether it’s an insulting comment or a dismissive attitude, rudeness is pervasive. All too often, this negativity rubs off on us.
You can’t control someone else’s behavior but you don’t want to be provoked by someone’s ill-mannered attitude. So what do you do?
When confronted with toxic behavior, whether it’s coming from a crotchety stranger, a grouchy coworker or a snappish friend, here are some tried and true methods that smart people use to effectively handle rude people.
1. Realize that rudeness is nothing new.
Rudeness seems to be part of human nature. We’ve been complaining about it since the beginning of time — Plato famously ranted about disrespectful and ill-mannered youths. Rude behavior can easily become a habit for many people. We often simply overlook or forget the importance of showing kindness, sympathy and understanding to others.
Rude behavior is catching: it tends to trigger more negative behavior. But if we can see that these negative behaviors hamper our productivity, our happiness and our health, we can recognize the importance of putting a stop to such conduct. Rudeness is nothing new, but that doesn’t mean we have to continue the cycle of rudeness.
2. Stop the spiral of rudeness.
Rude behavior can spread like a disease if you let it. One act of rudeness can easily spiral and cause other acts of rudeness, spreading foul tempers and poor behavior in its wake.
It’s easy to see how this happens. A rude driver cuts in front of you on the way to work, causing you to feel annoyed and frustrated. You take those negative feelings out your office mates when you find yourself snapping at co-workers for no real reason. Your co-workers, feeling miffed, are then grumpy and rude to others. And so it goes.
You have it in your power to stop that cycle of rudeness. With a little empathy you can defuse rudeness with kindness.
3. Don’t take rudeness personally.
The first step to stopping the cycle of rudeness is to stop taking rude behavior personally. We all have bad days when the world seems to be beating us down. It’s all too tempting to take it out on the world, which really means taking it out on the person nearest to you.
This happens to all of us, so realizing that the offending person may just be having a bad day can put things into perspective. They may be dealing with something difficult when you just happened to get in their line of fire. Often you can break the cycle of rudeness by avoiding responding to bad behavior with your own negativity.
4. React to rudeness with kindness.
Don’t let a rude person cause you to respond with more of the same. One of the best ways to defuse rude and negative behavior is to stay friendly and positive. This gives the other person a chance to calm down and adjust their behavior to match yours. Kindness can be a wonderful antidote to rudeness.
Showing kindness to someone who is being surly or insulting to others can be extremely difficult. But by setting a calm and well-mannered example, you can prompt them to follow your lead. If this doesn’t work, you can take pride in knowing that you didn’t lower your standards or add your own rude behavior to the mix. Instead, you maintained your cool.
5. Use humor to defuse a difficult person.
A rude and difficult person can create tension and anxiety in themselves and everyone around them. Remember, they are probably being rude because they’re angry or upset about something that they’re going through. Humor can create a diversion and break the tension, allowing everyone to laugh it off.
You can do this by finding a way to laugh about a common situation or by joking about a shared experience you can all relate to. Self-deprecating humor can also be disarming. Finding a way to insert a little levity when someone is feeling out of sorts may be just the thing to help everyone hit the reset button and begin again on a better note.
6. Call the person out on his or her behavior.
Another tactic to stop the spiral of rudeness is to simply call them out on their behavior and ask them to stop. If someone you can’t get away from is consistently rude to you, you need to address the issue directly. There is no need for you to take ongoing abuse from anyone. You should never allow anyone to treat you in a disrespectful way.
Have a conversation about what is going on. Does the person realize how hurtful his or her actions are to you? Perhaps the person doesn’t realize how rude he or she is being. By making the person aware, it gives him or her a chance to apologize and try to be more polite.
7. Don’t escalate.
When someone annoys you, your first instinct may be to lash back. But remember, you always (and only) have control over yourself. Choose not to give in to drama. No matter how another person acts, you own your behavior, just as they will have to own theirs.
Keep your cool. Take a deep breath and give yourself space to calm down if someone has upset you. Remember, you don’t have to stoop to their level, and doing so will probably only make matters worse. Maintain your dignity and rise above the fray.
8. Show empathy and sympathy.
Showing empathy requires you to try and understand why the person is being rude. Perhaps that person is dealing with a difficult situation in their personal life, or is feeling overwhelmed by deadlines that are piling up at work. If you can find a way to show that you understand and care about them and what they are going through, they will feel more connected and less alone in their struggles.
If you know someone is having a difficult time, let them know that you understand. Don’t judge them for having a bad day or for snapping at others. You might find a way to mention that you’ve had rough days too, and you can relate to how the person is feeling.
If someone is having a momentary lapse in manners, this may help the person become aware of their negative behavior. If the person gets angrier, let it go. There’s nothing you can do to force someone to behave.
9. Be a good role model.
People have all kinds of ulterior motives for acting as they do. Recognize that some people use rude behavior as a way of showing dominance or displaying power. They may be trying to provoke a reaction and make you look bad. Don’t let them have the satisfaction of seeing you get angry.
By being a good role model and treating everyone with fairness, kindness and empathy, you are displaying the kind of behavior you expect from those around you. If they can’t show you the same level of civility in return, it may be time to enlist the help of others.
10. Avoid the rude person.
When all else fails, keep in mind that sometimes it’s best to just walk away. If you have done all you can to make the person aware of his or her actions and you have tried to show kindness and empathy, it may be that this person is just incapable of treating you (and others) with politeness and good manners.
By avoiding habitually rude people, you take away their audience and give them fewer targets to lash out at. A lack of an audience will also defuse the situation. If everyone around them begins giving them a wide berth, perhaps it will be a wake-up call. And if not, it will at least help everyone else have a better day.