Dave Conrad: Rudeness at work hurts

Dear Dave:A few of the people I work with are just plain rude to each other. This is getting me down and I know some of my coworkers have been hurt many times. Why would they behave this way? What should managers do about this behavior? —M

Dear M:Rude and disrespectful coworkers exist at virtually every workplace and communicating with them — mostly, because you have to — is slightly less painful than a root canal. They're rude, because of something that's going on with them. Don't take their behavior personally.

The more subtle and malicious forms of rudeness include gossiping, backstabbing, spreading rumors, and sabotaging others' work. In one large study, a staggering 98 percent of employees reported experiencing rude behavior at work.

Some HR experts call rude behavior, "incivility." I say rude is rude and it is what it is. Accordingly, it must be dealt with quickly and effectively. If the behavior is left untreated, the door is wide open for the rude offenders and others to think it is OK to act this way. Wrong!

Simply, if an employee is rude to colleagues or customers, it can damage your firm's reputation and poison the culture and morale. Ultimately, this can lead to a loss of sales, or a fall in productivity. It is not uncommon for good people to quit their jobs, because of a rude environment.


My Rochester management colleagues tell me rudeness hurts the feelings of staff, stifles communication, and hampers innovation, and you can imagine what new employees think when they are thrown into a rude environment – they are thinking, "Get me out of here."

Customers notice. Suppliers notice. Everyone sees it. Think about any time you were in a store or another work setting, and workers were being rude to each other. When I was in such a setting, I not only felt extremely uncomfortable, but I also believed that management was not doing their job.

I cannot elaborate on all of the reasons people are just plain rude. However, as I state in my book, "Ask Dave," rude people are unhappy people and they like making others unhappy, because "misery loves company." Rude people hate well-adjusted, nice, happy people – they are a threat to their being.

Managers must assess the rude environment and talk to the rude offenders. In their discussion with the "attack pack," managers must be specific about what behaviors are happening and what negative impact they have on others, and the company as a whole.

However, if informal action fails, management may need to initiate some form of disciplinary action, especially if you or another employee makes a formal complaint about a particular coworker.

In extreme cases of rude behavior, managers may need to take action for instant dismissal, because of gross misconduct. It is undesirable to allow things to reach this point and, if it did, I question whether the manager should be retained.

To cope with rudeness,be assertive. If a co-worker is rude, it's important to stand up to the person. Acknowledge the problem in an assertive manner without insulting your co-worker, and deal with it as soon as possible.

If the problems persist, go to a HR representative or a manager. Be truthful and prepare a strong case with documentation, and share it without getting too negative or defensive.


Finally, understand that you cannot control others. Letting the situation go, and realizing that the problem is the coworker's and not yours, is best. The only thing you can control is your reaction to another's behavior.

Contact Dave Conrad with questions or comments at Conrad is a professor at Augsburg College and directs the school's MBA program in Rochester.

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