Have you ever been in that awkward position at work where you've seen a colleague reduced to tears by someone's rude behavior?
Well I have... actually more than once!
A Close Encounter of the Rude Kind
I'd just gone to the restroom and there she was, obviously upset. A colleague I knew enough to say "hello" to in the morning, but not someone who I was particularly close to, as we worked in different departments. We had that awkward embarrassing silence, where neither one of us knew what to do. Should I leave? Ask her what's wrong? Pretend that I hadn't seen she was emotional?
In the end, I plumped for asking her what was wrong (it seemed like the right thing to do).
It turned out that her manager had shouted at her and given her a good "dressing down." Worse still, he hadn't even taken her to one side to do it. He'd delivered his tirade in front of the whole office.
I knew the manager who she was talking about. We all did. He had a bit of a reputation for being (how do I put it?) a bit unpredictable. One day he'd be fine and other days... well, let's just say he was best avoided.
So we had a bit of a heart-to-heart, there in the Ladies. She explained it all to me and I listened. I told her that I was sure it was nothing personal, that, unfortunately, this particular manager was just a bit, well, rude. I advised her that the best thing to do was to not let this ugly situation ruin her day.
I could see that she felt a bit better after having talked it through with me and was ready to go out, and to face her colleagues again. No matter how awkward it had been initially, I was glad that I had stumbled upon her, even if I couldn't do much apart from listen. After all, as the old saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved.
Unprofessional or Just Having a Bad Day?
No doubt about it, her manager's behavior was unprofessional. But, ultimately, he was in a position of power and we weren't, so what could we do?
He wasn't bad at his job in general. He wasn't even necessarily a nasty person. It was just that, every now and again, he seemed unable to control his temper. Who knows, maybe he was getting pressure from above, maybe he was just having a bad day, or maybe he was dealing with issues of his own.
I later found out that, a couple of days afterwards, the manager had taken my colleague to one side and apologized for his behavior. I was glad that he had come to the realization on his own that his actions had been wrong.
It can be easy for us to have a blinkered view of our own behavior and not to recognize when we're being rude ourselves. It's often harder to gulp down our pride and say sorry when we realize that we have behaved inappropriately, even when we know that the right thing to do is to apologize.
How to Deal With Rudeness When it Happens to You
Over the years, I've had a number of encounters at work where I've seen people get shouted, or even cursed, at by managers, along with countless examples of general rudeness. Once, I even had someone put their hand in my face to "shush" me... despite the fact that I'm very much an adult and not a three-year-old (though I'm not even sure I'd do that to a three-year-old).
Sometimes people recognize their own rudeness and apologize, and a new understanding can be reached. But when this doesn't happened and the situation isn't resolved, it can escalate and negatively impact more than just the people directly involved. It might, for instance, begin to affect the behavior and morale of the wider team, or even the organization's culture.
Bullying can sometimes be a by-product of rudeness, particularly if such behavior is allowed to continue. People may leave, complaints might be made, or, in the worse case scenario, it could lead to disciplinary action.
Personally, I've always found the best way to react to rudeness in the workplace is to "kill it with kindness," even if I'm seething inside. I find that it really helps to defuse what might become a volatile situation, and it can also help to keep my own emotions in check if things get heated.
We explore Five Ways to Deal With Rudeness in the Workplace in our new article. Perhaps you have your own successful technique. If so, feel free to share your advice in the comments section below...