Four Tips For Defending Yourself Against Rudeness at Work

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by Deborah Brown-Volkman

Today’s stressful workplace carries an expectation that you perform perfectly all of the time. Company numbers have to exceed last quarter’s numbers. Market share has to increase. Work has to be completed faster. Technology advances mean that you are reachable 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There is no rest for the weary.

All of this stress can have an effect on you and the people you work with. As a result, from time to time, co-workers may snap at you. They do not mean it. The pressure has gotten the better of them in the moment. Understanding why co-workers snap is important. They are overworked, and so are you. But behavior that feels inappropriate is inappropriate and must be addressed quickly.

So what do you say to a co-worker who says something rude — something that does not feel right to you? Defend yourself.

Here are four tips for defending yourself:

1. Address The Inappropriate Behavior
Don’t let co-workers get away with treating you badly even if it’s unintentional. A bad behavior not addressed once, can become a new uncomfortable pattern going forward. It’s OK to let someone know that what they just said was hurtful, wrong, or out of place.

Let your co-worker know that what was said was wrong.

Let them know you are not happy with their behavior.

The best time to address an inappropriate behavior is in the moment if you can. It’s OK if you are unable to speak up in the moment. Not everyone has the perfect words to say all the time, especially if what was said to you was hurtful. If you need time to assess a situation or think before you speak, take the time you need. There is no time limit on your ability to have a conversation with someone at your job.

2. Convey What You Want Going Forward
Many people are afraid to have a conversation with someone who upsets them because they view it as a confrontation. Confrontation means there is a winner and a loser. Victory just for yourself is not what you are aiming for. You want win-win. You want both sides to be heard and a resolution that makes both sides happy.

Your goal is not to create hard feelings or to blame.

You want to convey what you believe is wrong and let your co-worker know what you want going forward. Do you want them to stop interrupting you in meetings? Then say so. Do you want them to stop talking credit for your work? Then say so. Whatever it is, it’s OK for you to say it.

3. Thank Your Co-Worker for Their Willingness to Work This Out with You
Thank your co-worker for taking the time to have the conversation with you. Speaking to you means they value you and respect your feelings. (Yes, it’s OK to have feelings at work.) Appreciation goes a long way, and helps creates the foundation for the new working relationship that has been formed.

Thank-yous also provide closure. They mean that both sides are ready to put the issue behind them.

4. Move On
Sometimes an issue will be resolved and sometimes it won’t. Maybe a co-worker doesn’t believe he or she has done anything wrong or does not want to see your side.

Maybe the person isn’t interested in what is important to you. Whether you were able to resolve the situation or not doesn’t matter. You spoke up, so good for you. Once you’ve given it your best shot, move on. Holding on to past issues will affect your future performance.

Trust that most issues will be resolved if you address them. The issues that don’t go away are the ones that you don’t talk about. Move on, while congratulating yourself for the courage it took to defend you.

So, what do you say? You only have one life to live, so it might as well be a life you love!

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

Deborah Brown-Volkman is the president of Surpass Your Dreams, Inc. a career and mentor coaching company that has been delivering a message of motivation, success, and personal fulfillment since 1998. Deborah is the author of Coach Yourself To A New Career: A Book To Discover Your Ultimate Profession, which can be found on To learn more visit Deborah’s site Surpass Your Dreams, send an e-mail to [email protected], or call 631-874-2877.

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