Bad manners can be good for you

Jul 23 2010 by Dan Bobinski Print This Article

Displaying bad manners is never good for your reputation or your business. But when a vendor or client is rude, impolite, or discourteous, it can help you decide how - or if - you want to proceed with that relationship. After all, choosing to sever ties with a rude person might save you a lot of headaches.

As a case in point, not too long ago I observed bad manners in a potential vendor, and it made me decide not to do business with that person. The situation was a business lunch. Even though the restaurant's menu had a large variety from which to choose, nothing seemed to work for this person. The person acted very disgruntled and begrudgingly asked for something that was not on the menu.

When the dish arrived, the person became the ultimate Prima Donna, pushing the plate back toward the server as if it contained a flesh-eating, carcinogenic bile. This was followed by a snide comment, "can you take that back and have them fix that? That's not what I ordered."

I cringed in embarrassment at the condescending and snobbish behavior of my guest. Previous statements and actions made by this person had raised a yellow flag, but now the cat was out of the bag. I knew that if I entered a business relationship with this person, I would eventually get the same treatment.

An old maxim played loudly in my head:

A person who is nice to you, but not nice to the server, is not a nice person.

Not wanting headaches down the road, later that day I told this person that I was choosing another vendor.

I thought about the possibility that this person might have been having a bad day or was experiencing stress at home, but the overt rudeness I observed was actually part of a trend. And, because I was under no obligation to do business with this person, I chose to look for a friendlier vendor.

When bad manners deteriorate your workplace
The situation will be different if you're an employee and don't have much control over who your company does business with- or what kind of people your company hires. Here are a few suggestions for when clients, vendors, or coworkers are rude and you are required to deal with them:

Remain objective. Making sideways or insulting comments may bring you temporary enjoyment, but professionalism wins in the end. I recall a vendor pressing a point with me that I thought was unreasonable. The conversation could have easily turned into an insult contest, but I held to the main points and kept it objective, not personal (that is, I talked about the issues and didn't make any negative comments about his perspective).

About ten minutes later the issue was resolved to both of our satisfaction, after which the vendor told me "You know, I really appreciate the way you handled that."

Get help if necessary. Whether your trouble is with a client, vendor, or coworker, you might be better off talking with your manager about someone else's bad manners. Your manager might offer some sage advice, or maybe even step in to change the environment. Usually it's better to iron out the wrinkles in a strained relationship than it is to separate two parties altogether without even trying. But if total separation is the best solution, so be it.

Exercise compassion. This can be difficult to do, especially if the rude person is making personal comments. However, if people are rude for no apparent reason, it's possible such people are unhappy about something in their life. It could be a self-esteem issue or perhaps a personal problem that's weighing them down.

The key is to remember it's their problem, not yours. By doing your job and truly assisting such people, you are free to mentally reject any "stuff" they try to lay on you, because you know you are pouring kindness all over them.

Bonus: Not only could you be the only person that treats such people respectfully all day, it's possible that the light you shine into their life might begin to melt their hardening heart.

The bottom line: No "one-size-fits-all" answer exists, but if you observe someone displaying bad manners, they may eventually get turned on you. If you see that as a real possibility, one choice might be to avoid doing business with that person altogether.

If that's not possible or realistic, stay objective and get help if necessary. You might even choose to take pity on such people and cover them with compassion.

The idea is that when you are on the receiving end of bad manners, you can either let it put a stain on your day, or you can respond in a way that's good for you.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Daniel Bobinski teaches teams and individuals how to use emotional intelligence and how to create high impact training. Hes also a best-selling author, a popular speaker, and he loves helping teams and individuals achieve workplace excellence

Older Comments

Very well put. But I think you ignore one critical area of bad manners and the one that is hardest to deal with. How does one react when its your boss who is problem?


OK, but if the bad manners are coming from a customer and you don't have the luxury of dumping them, then what? I've had a couple of clients from hell over the years and as far as my company is concerned, if they're helping the bottom line then handling them is my problem.

Jo M

Karol & Jo ... no doubt the situations you describe are frustrating! Karol ' agreed, I left out the “rude boss” dilemma. That situation is probably the toughest to deal with. There’s a lot to say there, so perhaps I’ll address that issue in a future column.

Jo ' it’s been my experience that “customers from hell” are best dealt with using the “kill them with kindness” approach. There are two options I’ve seen work (but again, one size doesn’t fit all, so these are just options): The first is to truly be a servant to them. Lots of “sir” and “ma’am” and “thank you’s” pepper every interaction. Also, do whatever is feasible to truly serve them'without becoming a door mat.

The second option is one that works when you are “this close” to choking the stuffing out of them. Again, it’s lots of “sir” and “ma’am” all over the place, but with a slightly forced edge to it so they might guess it’s being forced. One time I used this approach and the client finally caught on. He challenged me, and it allowed me to openly tell him I thought he was consistently being rude to me. Getting that on the table enabled us to talk through it, and he actually became a pleasure to work with after that. I’m not saying you’ll have that same success, but those are a few options to try.

I’m curious what other people have found that works in either of these situations.

Dan Bobinski

Good article with great points. Something that we all need reminding of ever so often. Rude people always amaze me, but it is true we need to stop and take a moment to try to understand if possible why they are behaving that way. And then like you said, dust the dirt off our shoes and keep moving ahead, do not let them get you down. Thanks

Tina Del Buono

Sometimes it is hard to treat a person displaying bad manners with respect. Perhaps some life long conditioning has formed a values set that lets them belief bad manners is 'par for the course'. Everyone can have a 'bad day' and that does not excuse them for taking it out on a customer or client, friend or associate. However, how often do we see or hear a person talking about someone's display of bad manners, and in the next breath, we hear that the person was allowed to get away with it. Perhaps if the person on the receiving end or observing the bad manners were to say something like 'That's not how we do business here' or 'I don't appreciate you showing a lack of respect by using bad manners. If you continue to do that, we can longer be friends'. Understanding the difference between being aggressive and being and assertive can go a long way towards addressing issues of conflict. Perhaps the person ordering the meal had an idea in their head about what the meal should look like (based on some values or belief) and when their expectations were not met, they could have said something like 'I am sorry but when I ordered the meal, I was expecting ...because I had this meal elsewhere and it looked like.. Can you tell me why there might be this difference?' Taking it out on the server does not help anyone. We can all make an error in judgement but sometimes it is hard to accept that it might actually be our fault in the perceived service gap. There is a lot to be said for good communication skills in the workplace, in society and sometimes it can help to bridge the gap in expectations. it is a pity that workplaces and society don't spend more time on this critical issue. There is nothing wrong with saying please and thank you, and there is nothing wrong with treating others with respect irrespective of their role in the workplace.

Bernie Althofer Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Bernie -- I really like your points!! Well said.

Dan Bobinski