Biting My Tongue: 5 Ways to Handle a Rude Co-worker

So, I’m a Gemini.  And I’ve heard that means that I have two personalities, two “faces.”

This is true, of course.  I do have two personae: one for home and one for work. But, then again, I think we all have the same (or should, anyway!).

Having worked in marketing now for a number of years—much as I would like to include them, the two years I spent developing my high school fansites for the LucasArts game Outlaws and Swedish pop group The A*Teens do not fit the “professional” part of this—I have expanded my network by hundreds, if not thousands, of people.  And in those years, I have run into a handful of people who can only be described in one word: disrespectful.

Angry WomanI’m not saying these are bad people, but as co-workers they lack a certain … grace.

So how do you deal with this type?  A lot of people have responses, but are they really appropriate or realistic?

1. Understand that everyone has personal problems.
Most of the time, we have no idea what goes on in our co-workers’ personal lives, and that can understandably affect their mood at work. But, wait … we all have personal issues, and somehow the rest of us leave those at home, so this is a moot point. And, to be honest, venting about the co-worker at home is affecting our own personal lives. Still, have a bit of sympathy for the co-worker in question, because you aren’t walking in his or her shoes and have no idea what could be going on.

2. Don’t let them get to you.
You keep your head down and get your job done. It’s easy enough to say this, but when someone starts copying your boss on their rude emails to you, it’s hard not to let it get to you. After all, at that point you have to explain the situation to your boss. That makes things personal. Even so, if you do not have to work with the co-worker in question very often, it’s relatively easy to just let things slide. If you have to deal with this person on a daily basis, however, it may be time to move to the next option …

3. Kill them with kindness.
According to CNN, “even though it can take a lot to be nice to someone who is rude, this can pave the way to a more collegial relationship.” I’ll admit: it’s very difficult to do this and takes incredible self-control. But you can do it! According to an article on, “instead of having defensive reactions to the person’s criticisms or negative comments, refuse to argue. Point out the good in every situation. Point out specific positives you see.” The result, in all likelihood, will be that he or she will realize that his or her comments are not having any effect, and you will take some comfort in being the bigger person.

4. Confront them.
Before you do this, take note of the times your co-worker has made you feel bullied or insulted. Keep a paper trail of emails that seem overly aggressive or insulting, or jot down the comments you heard on phone calls or in meetings. With notes in hand, arrange a face-to-face, one-on-one meeting with the co-worker and approach the situation calmly; the last thing you want is for the colleague to immediately go on the defensive, which could further exacerbate things. By speaking to the co-worker directly, you have the opportunity to provide clarity to your dispute and hopefully make them realize that they are being unreasonable in their actions.

5. Get others involved.
If it gets to the point where you can no longer perform your job duties without fearing a disrespectful comment (written or verbal), it may be time to bring it to the attention of others. Explain the situation to your boss or your HR manager, providing details and examples where necessary. And try to stay as calm and objective as possible; getting emotional about it or blasting the co-worker usually has the opposite desired effect.

A study from a few years ago showed that employees dealing with rude co-workers were more likely to make mistakes in their own work. Clearly it’s best to deal with the situation head-on rather than allowing it to fester.

Have you ever had to deal with a rude co-worker? What did you do to fix or deal with the situation?

Image courtesy of Mom’s Fortress of Solitude

Categories: Career and Office

5 Comments so far:

  1. Priceless says:

    1. KNOW that you are not a victim.
    2. In the same way your rude co-worker chooses negative approaches to work and people; REMEMBER you are choosing not to slap them across the face or treat the same. We are all capable of self-control, and when tested ask yourself, is this person worth loosing my job, having charges pressed against me or going to jail over? If you can say yes to any of the three, then you should quit your job or you may decide to slap your offender in the face. If you decide the latter for momentary gratification, embrace your minute of relief before ruining your life over some smuck.
    3. KNOW that when you are the recipient of a smuck’s tantrums and lashing out but you, “KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON”. BE PROUD about the power you possess in maintaining poise.

  2. Avispita says:

    I have been working since April at a local school. The invironment is mainly women, I started doing one job but soon I was offered another one in the same place. At the begining a coworker was being rude on a daily basis but because I was new I didn’t want to show insecurity. I approached her about her rudeness, she new straight away what I meant, she apologized and for few weeks it was fine but then It all started again this time got worse, I asked our superior to be moved, the problem is that I spoke with emotion and it looked as if I was having a tantrum, the coworker(older than me) took advantage of this. Now I am on the other side doing the same plus the other job but I have got another coworker who is being incredibly rude to me. I don’t want to speak to my superior or she will really think I am very immature, again I am letting it go but when I am constantly interrupted when I speak or if I ask for clarification I am spoken very very slowly and loudly, very patronising or when my coworker thinks she is the boss, I want to explode and put everyone in their place at once.
    Your recomendations are very good, I just wish I ha not been so emotional and personal the first time. Should I deal with it myself? or should I talk to my supervisor?

    • Ingrid says:

      I’m sorry you’re in such a tough situation. 🙁 My recommendation, first, would be to approach the offending coworker on the subject. You never know – while the other resolution was short-lived, this one might actually take it to heart and make your work environment a lot more positive!

  3. sweetcharity says:

    Letting emotions get involved is something we try not to do and sometimes, well, we are human, it happens. There is a saying that I’ve been told that I’m still trying to implement in my dealings with the general public (that includes co-workers, who I’ve learned are not my friends or family but competition). You learn to have a public face for work and leave your casual hangin’ out face at home. You keep your conversations to a light tone but keep specifics out. NO one needs to learn your private business. Learn to have a few lines about personal that aren’t all that deeply personal. Keep things light and focused on the job. You punch in at 8 and out by 5. That’s it. Learn to keep work life separate from your home life. Some find it hard and blur the line with work and personal life because nowadays we spend so much time at work. You owe nothing to the job but the eight hours you are there to show up and do the work. Develop healthy relationships and hobbies OUTSIDE of work, this lessens the need to want to gain approval from the aholes at work. If a person does manage to interrupt your speech, I would let it slide a couple of times, then say calmly, “Oh, I will wait until you are finished speaking, and then I will speak when you are done.” And I would say this politely but firmly, looking the employee in their eye, and not break eye contact. Stay calm and cool too. After a couple of times of this person realizing either they are talking too much or being disrespectful, they may back down. If not, then the next time this happens, simply walk away (not dramatically or sarcastically or comically, just calmly casually turn and walk away) from them as they keep blabbering. And if they say how dare you, say nothing. If they follow you and want to step things up, smile sweetly, stay calm, and say “this is not a two person conversation but a one-sided one. Send me an email detailing what you want and I’ll get back to you. Have a nice day.” And repeat, firmly, politely, looking them dead in the eye. Show no fear, do not let your blood pressure rise, stay cool and calm, and they will get the message they can’t get a rise out of you. Or they can complain to management and then they can explain why things started the way they did. If they know they’re being an ahole, they won’t escalate it or put themselves on the spot to have to explain their behavior. Take copious notes and keep them at home, dated and detailed keeping your emotions out of it. The more you stay calm, the more they escalate and slip up in the earshot or view of someone important and they will be out of a job or at least you will be left alone and seen as mature for taking the high road and not letting them see you sweat.

    • Ingrid says:

      FANTASTIC points, sweetcharity! I especially love the ongoing theme with this – keeping cool, calm and casual. Letting emotions control your reactions rarely ends well.