Let’s face it: some people are just rude. And even people who aren’t usually that way may have their moments. So how do you handle rude people? What do you do when someone is more than just a little insulting?

All kinds of rude people

If you’ve worked in an office long enough, you’ll certainly be familiar with the “serial interrupter”. Some people are so focused on their own needs that they seem not to notice the rest of us. One minute you’re talking to a colleague in the hallway, and the next he’s being accosted by someone: “Why wasn’t I invited to yesterday’s meeting? I’m just hearing about it now!”

Then there are the ones who are always insulting someone. You meet some friends for drinks and run into someone you haven’t seen in a couple of years. “You used to be so skinny!” she cries. “What happened?!”

And then there’s the guy (or gal) who’s never satisfied with your work – and makes a point of letting you know publicly. “I read your report, and honestly … I don’t know what to say. I just hope the boss goes easy on you!”

Wishful thinking

Don’t you wish you had a clever comeback – something that would put that jerk in his place and make you look good in the process? But people who make a habit of being rude have gotten good at it. Chances are your clever comeback will backfire, making you look – and feel – even worse.

Don’t worry. There is some good news. You don’t need a snappy comeback. All you need to do is remember a few basic principles.

Know what’s at stake – and what you want

First of all, it’s important to remind ourselves that, at least most of the time, rudeness leads to nothing more than a bruised ego. It’s not the end of the world. But, still, you have a decision to make. Will your self-respect suffer if you do nothing? Do you need to do some impression management so that your colleagues won’t lose respect for you? It’s useful to ask yourself these kinds of questions, even if you’re not prepared to take action.

Know why it’s rude

When you’re faced with rude behavior, it’s important to know exactly what makes it that way. The interruption was rude because it disregarded your needs. You were in the middle of a conversation, and the “interrupter” ignored that (or didn’t notice).

The comment about your weight was rude because it was hurtful, personal and public – not a good combination.

And the nasty remark about your report? For starters, it was a vague criticism with no specifics – and therefore no value. But for most of us, the fact that it was given in public is the real problem.

Knowing what’s wrong with something helps you to choose your response. And it’s essential if you’re going to address rudeness directly.

Three good options to deal with rude people

In any situation, you have three good options:

  1. Ignore the rudeness. This is a good choice if you don’t need anything from the interaction. If your conversation is finished, or it wasn’t important, say goodbye to your colleague and get back to your desk.
  2. Make a joke about it. This can be a good way to defuse tension. When that old acquaintance comments on your weight, laugh and tell her how flattered you are that she noticed.
  3. Call people out. This is useful when you want to put an end to someone’s rudeness. When that colleague insults your work, spell out why that’s not OK and what he must do instead. “I don’t appreciate being insulted in front of my colleagues. If you have a problem with my work, please send me an email with your issues and I’ll deal with them.” It can be tough to stand up to someone like this, but it may be necessary.


When it comes to a person being rude, you have all three of these options in just about any situation. You can ignore comments about your weight or the quality of your work. You can make a joke about being interrupted or insulted – although I must admit I’d be hard pressed to come up with a joke after being insulted in front of my colleagues. And you can call anyone out on anything: “Excuse me. We’re in the middle of a conversation. Would you please come back later?” or “Please don’t make my weight the subject of a public conversation.”

Which one you use depends on the situation and what you want from it. So before you respond, take a deep breath or two and decide what you really want.

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