How Do You Stop Ms. Rude?

A question to Ask theWorkplace Doctors about a rude coworker:

I have a coworker who is very controlling and rude. Whenever we have meetings, she cuts everyone off. She does not listen to anyone’s ideas and she never wants to accept constructive criticism. There was one time where we were doing a group project trying to reorganize things in the office. I had an idea and voiced it out loud. Before I finished my idea, she cut me off and ignored the fact that I was saying anything. How do I confront my coworker without offending her or being rude? But a time I felt good in the workplace is when my manager was cutting all the employees that were minors in half and I went to her respectfully and advocated for myself and got my hours back. This happened in the beginning of the virus pandemic. Signed–Stop Ms. Rude

Dear Stop Ms Rude:

Your question about one rude coworker is best understood when you look at the way we interact across this nation. Unfortunately the interruptions of your coworker are all too common. Many workers, especially those who think of themselves as more competent, behave as if they had little manners. I don’t know if their parents failed to teach them to take turns with others or if they got their way when they dominated a conversation. 

Perhaps you have not heard of Stanford management professor Robert Sutton’s The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. Sutton cites surveys conducted in several different companies, one in which 20% of employees indicated they were direct targets of incivility at least once a week and another study in which approximately 25% witnessed incivility on the job every day and 50% reported being direct targets of incivility at least once a week. In yet another 35% reported being verbally abused by at least one coworker and 31% reported being verbally abused by at least one superior.

How did we get so mean, rude, coarse, and uncivil? How did we become so uncivilized?”

Professors Christine Porath of Georgetown and Christine Pearson of Arizona State in the “Price of Incivility” in the Harvard Business Review concluded “Rudeness at work is rampant and it’s on the rise.” Their surveys of thousands of workers indicate “98% have reported experiencing uncivil behavior.” They make a strong case that incivility hurts the bottom line. These two Christines, more than any other pair of researchers of incivility, describe a number of ways managers may cope with and prevent it–ranging from forming a global civility mindset to laughing about it and learning from your missteps.

Porath has a personal reason for her research of incivility. She attributed her athletic father lying in a Cleveland hospital with electrodes strapped to his bare chest to what put him there as, “I believe it was work-related stress. For years he endured two uncivil bosses.” Consequently she agrees with those who link workplace incivility with stress that adversely affects employees health: “Intermittent stressors — like experiencing or witnessing uncivil incidents or even replaying one in your head — elevated levels of hormones called glucocorticoids throughout the day, potentially leading to a host of health problems, including increased appetite and obesity.”    

I expect this is more than you want to know about rudeness. I will suggest you consider several ways to understand and cope with Ms. Rude:

  • Recall the setting. Did the supervisor/eader propose an agenda of subjects to be discussed? Often groups jump into discussion of topics that aggressive members propose rather than list/scan all that needs to be considered in a staff meeting. That’s a mistake and allows rudeness to rule. Did your leader manage the meeting or did she/he allow anyone to speak as often and as long as they wished? And do you have regular meetings? When you don’t, it’s more likely that the desire to be heard and for the aggressive to take over.
  • One option you had was to speak up saying, “Sally, or whatever is Ms, Rude’s name. Wait a minute, Sally, you cut me off and ignored the fact that I was saying anything.” Sometimes Ms Rude types need to be made aware that others are present.
  • Has your workgroup ever talked about how to have effective and efficient meetings? Or has it simply never been discussed? Until and if the do and don’t rules are frankly discussed, interruptions and me-first talk will happen.

Groups need to learn how to think and communicate as good sports teams do–they have skull sessions in which all team members before and after games are expected to talk about how they talk to and with each other. What went well and what do we need to correct before the next game?  I suspect that this is not the way your work group interacts. You will have to decide if you want to get your work group to do that same thing.

  • You found that your manager listened when you said you didn’t cut your hours. This should give you courage to respectfully voice yourself in staff meetings.                 

I will be interested if you think any of these suggestions make sense and deserve a try. Let me know. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. –William Gorden