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How to Deal with Rude People – 5 Lessons for Leaders and Others

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How to deal with rude people.

How do you deal with rude people? Lessons for Leaders

Something happened today that always frustrates me. I volunteer and coach several sportsย  teams each year. I do it for a lot of reasons. I do it because it is an opportunity to really make my children happy, I do it because I really feel I can have a positive effect in the lives of the kids I spend time with, and I do it because I know that a lot of parents are not willing to. I have had my share of dealing with rude people in my life, but some of the rudest have been the parents of kids I volunteer to coach. Note: You will notice I bold the word volunteer.

Today I coached a very challenging group of kids. There are a number of behavioral challenges with some of these kids. Often times they don’t get a long very well and many of them think they are the next LeBron James. This is probably the most difficult team I have ever coached. But I have enjoyed the challenge and have done my best to make a difference in their life. After all, that is what leaders do. But how do you deal with rude people, in this case a parent, who is confrontational in his or her criticism of you to your face? How do you deal with rude people who only whine, but never step up and help? People that are always only part of the problem, not the solution.

Well, I know in the work place this can be just as challenging. I have had bosses that were rude, I have had co-workers that were rude, and I have had staff that I led that were rude. I believe each of these situations should probably be handled a little different. But I have come up with five general things you can do when someone is being rude.

Here they are:

1. Don’t be quick to respond. If you respond out of emotion, you will almost always regret it. You may be angry back or you might even give that person the impression that you agree with what they are being critical about. Take a deep breath and think about what is being said.

2. Don’t take it personally. Are you really the one with the issue or are they? Try to focus and really listen to what is being said, not how it is being said. The reality is you have done something that has really made this person act rudely, however, that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you personally. But if there is some value in what is being said, then listen and learn. If not, move on.

3. Invite them to become part of the solution. Dependent on the situation you might want to ask them what they can do to help. If I have done the first two suggestions right, this almost always turns the tables and helps the person to take a good look in the mirror.

4. Stay silent. Sometimes the right thing to do is to look them directly in the eye and don’t say a thing. Let them act like a blockhead. Don’t agree or disagree, just stare at them until they walk away.

5. Unload and unwind. Once you have done what you could, it’s time to unload and unwind and take the rude person and the situation out of your mind. You might want to talk to a close friend or significant other about it. One of the best ways I deal with situations like I have described above is to write about it – hence the reason I am writing about rude people today (wink). It helps me to talk about it and then forget about it and to move on.

What ways have you dealt with rude people? I really want to hear your stories and tips. Please comment below. Thanks!

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If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy others like this.

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Can Kindness and Toughness Co-Exist in Leadership?

3 Ways to Deal with Whiny and Complaining Employees

Follow Mike on Twitterย 

Leave a Comment

  • Jonathan Magid March 6, 2012, 8:10 am

    Nicely put, Mike. Your first suggestion is critical and among the most difficult things anyone can do, especially in the situation you describe, where a screaming parent is right up there in your personal space.
    It’s so essential NOT to engage emotionally. When you respond from your own emotions, likely all you can do is escalate the situation, and at least for me it never turns out well.
    So, in a few work situations I have adopted the strategy of mirroring people’s body language to the extent possible, listening intently, and before responding, silently counting backward from 5 and forming the words, “this is not personal, it’s really not about you.”
    In the three seconds or so it takes to do this, I’ve bought myself the time to make at least an attempt to paraphrase and reflect the emotion I’m seeing in them. While this isn’t always effective, it does seem to be more consistently useful than not.
    Sometimes, the only thing to say is, “I can appreciate that you’re really upset, and I’m happy to discuss this with you at a better time. I am not going to be yelled at, so let’s do this later. Thanks.”

  • richard Rees March 6, 2012, 10:23 am

    Nice article : In situations where it has been on a professional level I have have kept my side professional.
    In many cases folks that have been agitated and or angry are looking for a reaction in engagement in some way. They feel they want to vent that frustration.
    Many years ago I had a customer blow off steam at me I allowed them to vent, noted the under lying concerns , and then replayed them back to them with empathy on how the problems our product was causing the issues. I went on to play back the root causes (calmly of course ๐Ÿ™‚ !) and finally my initial plan of attack. Once they felt they had been heard and ownership of the issue had been taken they were calm. In fact later that day that customer came back apologised for their tone and thanks me for fixing the issues.
    An another incident a colleague rook an ‘in your face’ approach to tackling an issue. In this instance I took a breath and then took control of the conversation. I informed the colleague that as professionals this is not the language we use. I indicated that I was there to collaborate on solving an problems or clarification an issues. However if the tone/language of the meeting was to continue the meeting was over. They backed down, apologised and we moved on.
    Mike’s point about not getting emotional is right on the mark. As soon as you do its a lost cause and you need to extricate yourself from the situation until it can be done in a clam manner. They same applies if the other person will not calm down.

  • Debbie Ruston March 6, 2012, 10:14 am

    Big congrats to you Mike for BEING the leader! I guarantee there will be parents on the sidelines that are not brave enough to use their voice and appreciate all you are doing. Great article…all these points are excellent. The one that really stands out that I have seen play out very well, is #3….giving them the space to step up and find solutions. When they get involved and take personal responsibility and ownership, it changes their perspective.
    Our son spent a few summers refereeing soccar when he was young. The same thing happened to him. A parent yelled at him for something, and he looked the parent straight in the eye and said, “with all due respect, I am reffing this game”. It was amazing to see him take this leadership role at only about 12 years of age.
    Leadership always requires doing what others are not willing to do:) Well done!

  • Mike Rogers March 7, 2012, 8:26 am

    Thanks for the comments everyone!
    Jonathan, I really like your suggestion on how to control the emotion. You are right, that is so important in situations like that. You want to be careful not to give up power by reacting without thinking.
    Debbie, I have had kids ref before and witnessed the same exact thing! Great story, thanks for sharing.
    you are right Richard. To react is exactly what the person who is being rude wants you to do. At that point you lose power. Not good.
    Allan, thanks. Number four is probably more of an emergency response – LOL. Meaning that if they are really off base, than let them come to that realization. I have used it before with good success : ) But I could see where it might be cultural thing as well.

  • allan scarlett March 7, 2012, 8:22 am

    Great article, Mike. I agree with all of your 5 suggestions, particularly the point that they are part of the problem therefore part of the solution. The only one I didn’t and wouldn’t use (as I am a retired primary headteacher now) is to stay silent and just stare at them. That wouldn’t work in England as the parents (who have a lot of power nowadays) would just take that as confrontation and react in some way, either immediately or retrospectively. Believe me there were many times as a Head that I wanted to say something to a parent but had to bite my tongue and think of how to deal with the situation most positively, even if inside I thought they were fundamentally in the wrong (and often rude)

  • Paul Weinert March 8, 2012, 8:31 pm

    Great comments Mike. A book I recently read centers around the same theme. “Dealing With People You Can’t Stand; How to bring out the best in people at their worst” by Brinkman and Kurschner, helped me how to identify and then deal with rude, obnoxious, and whiney people. According to the authors communication seems to be key in dealing with rude people. And as always great leaders communicate effectively.

  • Mike Rogers March 19, 2012, 7:10 pm

    Thanks Paul, I am glad you liked the post!
    Thanks for the book recommendation as well. I will have to check it out. Communication is such a critical skill.

  • Kayjb April 5, 2012, 7:40 am

    Great points. I always try to recognize my initial reaction to be hurt and get mad but focus that energy on finding the one or two things the person is saying that I can use to improve how I interact with them and others. This helps me to take some of the stress out of the interaction and my memory. We have a tendency to remember negative things so attaching a positive neutralizes the impact on mind and body.

  • Mike Rogers April 6, 2012, 3:48 pm

    Thanks Kayjb. Your approach is what will make you a better leader. Always asking yourself “what can I do to improve?” or “What can I take from this?” Great comments, thanks.

  • Blueroselady April 17, 2013, 12:09 am

    Dear Mike
    Thank you so much for sharing.
    I gained some inspirations from you and shared them at

  • Ahme September 26, 2013, 11:39 pm

    I had a rude manager before and i have used the unload and unwind solution .. I have talked to a close workmate in that time.. But he inform my manager about what i said and i got fired ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€

    Real story

    • Mike Rogers September 27, 2013, 12:34 pm

      Ugh… that’s too bad Ahme ๐Ÿ™


  • Madame Egg October 12, 2016, 11:07 pm

    I like #2. Then I must unwind. I keep to myself as much as possible. I am a troop leader for girl scouts. Lots of work, useless co leader and parents who are really rude. Not all parents just some. One couple I really can’t believe how rude, disrespectful and patronizing they were to me, a VOLUNTEER. Anyway, when I decided to do this due to being told the troop would disband because there were no leaders available, I had an exit plan. The rude parents remind me of someone who would kick the dog, yell at the waitress and just abuse vulnerable people.
    I just noticed how long ago the rest of these comments are. Good thing the internet hangs around forever.

  • Beena July 30, 2018, 10:59 pm

    Any good read is welcome


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