Rude people are simply a part of life, and I think we can all agree with dealing with them isn’t easy.
Here’s the good news though – you have what it takes to handle them. You really do!
Most of dealing with conflict effectively comes down to fighting our instincts and dealing with rude people is no different. Our instincts when dealing with someone who is rude is to maybe get angry, or yell, or to respond in kind.
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While I was out driving with my son and nephew the other day, someone cut me off and almost caused an accident. I was more relieved than anything that we were all ok, but my son and nephew had a slightly different reaction. Both of them were saying I should’ve honked or yelled at her.
Now, what they were telling me to do is a totally normal reaction. But as I pointed out to the kids, the person probably didn’t even realize they did it and it happens to even the best of drivers.
Lo and behold, we pull up to the next red light and the person who cut me off is right there. You know what she did? She rolled down her window and apologized profusely. My son turned to me and said thoughtfully, “Well, it’s hard to be mad when someone is like that.”.
Imagine how differently that would have gone if I had pulled up beside her and yelled!
Now I know getting cut off in traffic isn’t the exact same as dealing with a colleague or a family member who’s being rude, and it’s often easier to let it go when the person is a stranger.
Here are my simple rules for how to deal with rude people:
#1. Give People the Benefit of the Doubt
Maybe, like that lady in traffic, they weren’t meaning to rude. Perhaps they’re having an awful day, or they have something going on in their life that you know nothing about and they’re lashing out because of it.
We need to practice empathy.
When we come at a situation from a place of empathy, we`re less reactive. We don’t have that gut feeling of being SO ANGRY and we can better focus on being poised and calm. We can be confident in the face of the rude behavior because we are trying to approach it from a place of empathy.
#2. Slow Down, Take a Breath
Since we’re all human, we probably aren’t going to feel immediately empathetic the moment something happens. We all have feelings, and that knee-jerk reaction to rudeness is normal.
This is where you need to stop and take a breath. Whatever feelings coming bubbling up in that first instant, don’t act on them. Stop and count to 10 to get your surge of emotions under control before you speak.
Your goal should be to stay grounded, focused, and not react in the moment.
#3. Mirror the Behavior You Want In Return
It’s a natural instinct to mirror someone who is emotional. So if someone is angry and raising their voice, most of us will have the instinct to do the same thing back.
Since we’re trying to avoid the situation from spiraling out of control, your goal is to try to neutralize the situation. If someone is all worked up and their adrenaline is pumping, they’re not going to come back down to “normal” right away.
By you keeping a cool head and mirroring calm behavior, it will encourage them in the right direction.
#4. Remember That It’s Not Personal
Their behavior is about them, not about you. Of course, that’s easier to say than it is to believe, but truly, someone lashing out isn’t about anything you did or didn’t do.
There’s a story I heard once at a conference that I want to share with you. I’ll give you the abbreviated version to keep this on point.
There was a great samurai warrior who had gotten on in years and taken up teaching the local children Buddhism.
One day a young, cocky samurai arrived in the village wanting to fight the great samurai because he wanted fame and notoriety for himself. Despite the children thinking it was a terrible idea, the great samurai agreed to fight.
When the time came to fight, they gathered in the town square, and the young samurai began hurling insults to provoke the great samurai. He threw rocks, spat at him and came up with every insulting thing he could think of. The great samurai did nothing. After hours and hours, the young samurai gave up and left feeling humiliated.
When the children asked the great samurai WHY he never raised his sword to defend himself. In turn, the great samurai asked the children:
“If someone comes to you with a gift and you do not accept it, who does it belong to?”
The children replied by saying the person who tried giving it was who it belonged to, and the great samurai then told them:
“The same goes for envy, anger, and insults. When they are not accepted, they continue to belong to the one who carried them.”
Pretty apt when it comes to rude people, don’t you think?
We get to choose whether or not we let someone’s rudeness impact us. We don’t have to accept what they are trying to give us.
Taking the high road isn’t about accepting someone’s bad behavior. Sometimes you may go back when they’re calm to discuss it, or sometimes we just let it roll off our backs. Other times we may just decide to walk away completely in the moment.
We have the power to de-escalate things so much more than we think we do. When we show empathy, stop and take a breath, mirror the behavior we want and remember it’s not personal, we have a much better chance of getting what we want and need out of our interactions.
Don’t forget to be fearless and go out and have those difficult conversations when you need to. You got this!