How to Talk to Rude People
An Onslaught of Bad Manners
There are so many potential sources of stress in our lives: our jobs, money, family, politics. Dealing with a rude person nosing into our affairs is usually the last thing we need, and yet it happens so often. Sometimes it feels like everyone is obnoxious. Sometimes it feels like the world is populated by ubiquitous rude jerks, just waiting to pounce on our smallest goof-ups, from a typo on a memo to a forgotten turn signal. There are countless people who are ready and willing to be our judge and executioner, given the opportunity.
Given how many rude people you run into on a daily basis, it's important to take a step back and analyze how best to handle them. You wouldn't go on an exotic hunt without knowing the habits of your prey, nor should you venture out into the wilds of society without knowing the ins and outs of the rude folks who will cross your path. They are a stealthy and formidable foe; without proper training, you'll fall victim to their disregard.
Recognize the Heart of Rudeness
The one thing that defines all rude people is that they like to ambush. Rude people prefer to pounce when you're unaware that you're even on the radar. Truly rude individuals think things like "I'll show him" just before they circle in for the kill, and the best way to "show you" is to surprise you with an affront. If you think about many of your interactions with rude people, you'll see that it's true. Sure, they'll justify their surprise attacks by figuring that your oblivion is the very reason for their rudeness, but that's not true. The truth is that individuals with poor manners seek out moments when others aren't paying full attention because it reduces the risk of a logical, directed response.
This plays out in a variety of ways. At work, that off-putting woman down the hall loves to suddenly chime in with "I wish I had so much spare time!" right when you click on The Onion; at the grocery store, that nosy neighbor likes to sidle up to your cart and quickly snipe about the Ding Dongs you bought for your kids; even at home, a fellow board member loves to call consistently at dinner time to complain about your lack of devotion and your commitment to the cause. Online forums provide glorious shelter for "gun-and-run" rude people: every site has a handful of posters who only write quick, scathing critiques of former posts, and then disappear when the discussion turns reflective. Sometimes, they'll even use rude emoticons that seem to suggest that their venom is playful. Ambushing others with bad manners is never playful.
No matter where you find them, rude people prefer to go unnoticed until they strike. This is pervasive enough to be used against them.
Responding to the Ambush
The best defense against those who prefer to ambush you with rudeness isn't to be
prepared at every moment. No one can live like this; a 24-hour state of
hyper-awareness would go a long way towards turning you into what you
despise. No, the first cure for coarse ambushes is to have no reaction. If you are truly caught off-guard by a rude
comment, don't respond at all. Don't be frustrated, don't lash out,
don't get upset, don't get sad or embarrassed. Carry on as if it didn't
happen, because rudeness feeds on emotion of any kind. Don't feed the
animal, and the animal will die. Don't even feel anything about not feeling anything. This is counter-intuitive to living in today's society. We're so conditioned to have reactions to everything we encounter; having no reaction feels wrong to some people. It's not. Feeling and showing nothing is the first line of defense against ambush rudeness.
On the other hand, If you see the ambush coming, pounce first. This doesn't mean you should be rude to others before they get the chance to be rude to you. This isn't how you should choose to live (but it's likely the way many rude people began their campaigns). Instead, it means say or ask anything with assertion before the predator gets the chance to size you up properly. We've all had those moments when we know we're being stalked: when a peer is eyeballing our performance, or when a dinner guest is sniffing the appetizers. Before that neighbor at the store can utter a word about the junk food in your cart, ask her how her son is doing at college. Do it quickly and do it with authority. This takes most rude people off of their game plan; it takes the wind out of their sails. Either they'll answer or they won't, but either way, you're no longer the prey.
No Longer the Prey
If you're not prey, a rude person can no longer be a predator. Redirect and control the energy level of a potentially rude conversation by asking pointed questions before there's any opportunity to be offended. You may not be all that interested in the answers, but that's all right. If the person had rude intentions, he won't be interested in the conversation, either. Chances are your heart-to-heart will be short-lived and he won't bother with you in the future. Shaking off the role of prey is at the heart of how to talk to rude people.