Five Ways to Deal With Rudeness in the Workplace

Saying "No" to Uncivil Behavior

Five Ways to Deal With Rudeness in the Workplace - Saying

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Rudeness at work can have a high cost.

Hannah sat at her desk, shaking with anger and feeling totally humiliated.

She had been subjected to a very public "dressing down" by her manager at a respected publishing house. He had vented his rage after learning that a best-selling author's new book would likely miss its launch deadline.

Hannah, a production editor, had tried her best to keep the project on schedule, but it had been beset by events beyond her control.

First, the author had delivered his manuscript late, despite numerous reminders. When it did arrive, it needed a time-consuming rewrite, and then the designer went on sick leave, leaving the planned timeline in tatters.

Hannah's boss had walked up to her desk in the open plan office, and launched into a furious tirade. His frustration may have been understandable, but his behavior crossed a line. He shouted at Hannah in front of her team members, his language was wholly inappropriate, and at one point he even suggested that he regretted not giving the project to one of her colleagues.

This is just one extreme example of rudeness in the workplace. In this article, we look at what to do if you encounter rudeness on your team or from your boss.

What Is Rudeness?

Rudeness can take many forms. It is generally defined as a display of disrespect, a breaking of social norms or expectations, a breach of etiquette, or ignoring "accepted" behavior. It can also mean someone behaving inconsiderately, aggressively or deliberately offensively.

The word "accepted" is important, because rudeness can mean different things to different people, or within different organizations or environments. For example, shouting and swearing might be considered normal in a busy restaurant kitchen, but it would be regarded as wholly inappropriate and unacceptable in most offices.

Similarly, there can be cultural differences to consider. For example, in Japan, something as seemingly innocent as laughing with your mouth open is a no-no. So, it's important to be aware of possible cultural faux pas, especially if you are managing or working abroad or managing a culturally diverse team.

Rudeness can be a way to display power within a team or organizational relationship, to try to get your own way on something, or simply to provoke a reaction. It can also be a response to stress, pressure or frustration.

Five Ways to Deal With Rudeness in Your Team

Being on the receiving end of rude behavior can make you feel angry, upset and aggrieved. If it's not nipped in the bud, it can become "normalized" and embedded into your workplace culture. It can also escalate from low-level incidents into aggressive, bullying behavior.

According to a study in the Academy of Management Journal, rudeness can damage team performance, reduce helpfulness and collaboration, and negatively impact workplace relationships.

Here, we look at five strategies for ridding your team or workplace of rudeness.

  1. Be a good role model. How you treat your people can impact the way that they treat others. If they see that their managers or leaders get away with rude behavior, they may copy it. You can prevent rudeness from spreading by setting a good example to them. Our article, How to Be a Good Role Model, highlights the positive traits that you should demonstrate to your team, such as empathy, integrity, professionalism, and self-control.
  2. Don't ignore it. If you ignore rude behavior, you send out a signal that, in effect, you condone it. If you witness it, or if it's brought to your attention, you need to deal with it. We look at how to do that, below.
  3. Deal directly with the culprit. When you need to address rudeness, talk to the offender somewhere private. Stay calm and objective as you outline the facts as you know them, explain the negative impact of his or her behavior and how it made other people feel, and make it clear how you want him to modify his behavior. Our article, Bad Behavior at Work, explores this in more detail.
  4. Listen. The offender may think that she had good reason to be annoyed with somebody, and her rudeness was just a reaction to that. So, while making it clear that her behavior was unacceptable, give her an opportunity to explain what triggered it. Using Active Listening and emotional intelligence can help you to understand her situation, and you can then work together to find a solution.
  5. Follow up on any offender. By all means, take the offender's point of view into account, but you have to make it absolutely clear that you don't want a repeat of his words or actions. If, as part of your solution, you set him targets or standards of behavior, make sure that he achieves them. If he doesn't mend his ways, then you should consider firmer action. Discuss the situation with your HR department, and look at using formal warnings or even, as a last resort, letting him go.

How to Deal With a Rude Manager

If it's your boss who is being rude, there is a different power dynamic to negotiate. You may have to accept that you're unlikely to change how she behaves, so concentrate on mitigating the effect that her rudeness has on you.

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Here are four things you can do to deal with a rude boss:

  1. Ask why. Perhaps the boss has had a bad day, but it's possible that he is really cross with you. If so, you need to find out why urgently. It may be best to ask him, if you aren't clear why. His behavior may be because he is under pressure, or because he is insecure about his ability or fearful of yours.

    You need to handle this carefully, as there is a power imbalance to consider. You don't want to damage your relationship with her, or put your job security at risk. You can learn ways to approach your manager in our article, How to Tell Your Bosses They're Wrong.

  2. Be positive. The temptation when someone is being rude is to respond in kind, but that is not advisable with your boss. Try to rise above it. Even if you think her behavior was unwarranted, let your performance speak for you. Show her how valuable you are to her and to the team.
  3. Learn and adapt – to a point. You may be able to take yourself "out of the firing line" of a rude boss by getting to know how he behaves, and what his triggers might be. You can respond to him more effectively if you are able to anticipate his moods, and if you understand how he thinks and communicates.


While you can adapt your own behavior to reduce the chances of triggering his rudeness, be careful not to accept any controlling, bullying or manipulative behavior. 

  1. Seek extra help. Rudeness, as we have seen, can be a form of power play and even intimidation. Being more assertive or self-confident might make you less likely to be a target for such behavior but, if it continues, you should ask for help.

    Consider raising your concerns with your HR department. Give them evidence to back up your claims, such as a written log of instances when you were subjected to rude or unacceptable behavior. They have a responsibility to create a safe environment for everyone to work in, and will be keen to reduce staff turnover, so they might offer a range of solutions from mediation to disciplinary action, as appropriate.

    This approach will likely have consequences for your relationship with your manager, but it will send a clear signal that you refuse to be treated in this way. If there is still no improvement in your situation, or if your relationship with your boss breaks down completely, you may have to consider the final option of looking for opportunities elsewhere, either within your organization or externally.


To understand more about how to manage "difficult" people or behaviors, see our resources on Managing Different Groups of Workers and Dealing With Rude Customers.

Key Points

Rude behavior can be a way of displaying power, trying to get your own way, or provoking a reaction. It can also be a response to stress, pressure, frustration, or some other form of unhappiness. It can seriously impact team morale and productivity, and even lead to aggressive and bullying behavior.

To tackle rudeness in the workplace, be a good role model for your team members; don't ignore it; deal directly with the culprit; listen to both sides; and follow up on any offender.

If your boss is the one who's rude, find out the reason for his behavior, stay positive, work around it, and seek help from HR if there is no improvement in his behavior.

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Comments (9)
  • Over a month ago Michele wrote

    Thank you for the feedback on the article. With so much attention placed on sexual harassment in the media, it is important that all workplaces have sexual harassment policies in place, educate employees on how to recognize it, teach employees how to address it with their colleagues and to report incidents when they occur. Mind Tools does have articles available that deal with harassment and bullying.

    Mind Tools Team
  • Over a month ago wrote
    Excellent article which I have passed along to colleagues.
    I think it would be timely if the MindTools team could address harassment in the workplace in a similar article.
    I am male. I have been witness to frequent comments made by mostly male co-workers that are insidious rather than blatant, but are still suggestive or disrespectful. The subtle nuances of sexual harassment can be very detrimental to a work environment where mutual respect is the norm, but it can be difficult to address. This is especially true when the witness is a third party who may understand better where the boundaries are than the target of the harassment does. How is a co-worker supposed to intervene, or should they?
  • Over a month ago Michele wrote
    Hi gilliananne,

    Thanks for your feedback on the article. Rudeness is never welcome, whether it occurs in the workplace or outside of it.

    Mind Tools Team
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