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Rudeness in a business meeting can disrupt the meeting, affect employee morale or worse, so it's important to know how to deal with rudeness in a professional setting so that it doesn't damage your business, your team or your relationships with your clients.
Sometimes You Can't Wait
The most effective way to deal with rude people is to confront them privately about their behavior. Sometimes you can’t wait until later, however, and must immediately deal with the bad behavior. For example, if a colleague's rudeness is threatening to disrupt a meeting, you must find a way to restore peace without being sarcastic or bitter, which won't work and could make things worse, according to Gretchen Hirsch, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Difficult Conversations."
The rude behavior might be inadvertent. For example, gum chewing, playing with a cell phone, doodling or otherwise distracting others might be due to a lapse in manners rather than ill intent. Surreptitiously letting the offender know their behavior is out of line -- for example, by passing a note or giving a meaningful glance -- might defuse the situation.
If you can identify the reasons for the rudeness, you might be able to stop the problem at its source. For example, a colleague’s rude behavior might reflect her belief that she is being ignored. Giving her time to adequately express her opinions might disarm her or at least make her less combative. Rudeness also can be a sign of insecurity. For instance, if a colleague keeps making inappropriate jokes during a meeting, he might just want the group to like him. Going out of your way to include him in the discussion could focus his attention on the topic at hand. The advantage of taking a passive approach is that you might stop the rudeness without causing a scene or making the offender feel awkward.
When a passive approach fails, confront the problem directly but respectfully. For example, suppose a colleague keeps interrupting you. Stop her rude behavior by politely mentioning that you haven’t finished making your point. If you’re nice about it, the reminder draws attention to her bad behavior without drama. But if you sound annoyed, chances are the rude behavior will continue.
Another option is to ask whoever’s leading the meeting for a format change to decrease the opportunity for rudeness. For example, if a colleague is rudely questioning every other point you make, politely ask if questions can be held until the end. Or ask if everyone in the meeting can be asked for their opinion before proceeding, which will force the rude colleague to pipe down for a while.
If the rude behavior continues, consider postponing the meeting or walking out. While being tolerant of others’ quirks is an asset in the workplace, letting a bully push you around isn’t. There’s nothing wrong in insisting on being treated with respect. If a colleague is rude toward you, chances are the others in the meeting have been victims as well, and they might appreciate someone finally standing up to the bully.
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Stan Mack is a business writer specializing in finance, business ethics and human resources. His work has appeared in the online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" and "USA Today," among other outlets. Mack studied philosophy and economics at the University of Memphis.