One situation which requires a lot of confidence – in any language – is dealing with rude or aggressive coworkers. If you’re learning the communication codes of American business, these uncomfortable situations can be even more challenging. You may not know what to say to keep the confrontation professional and calm.
A rude or aggressive coworker can be very difficult to manage. So you need tactics to deal with these people.
Your coworker may lose their cool (that’s an American business idiom, it means to lose their self-control). But you don’t have to! And you’ll look more professional for it!
So today, you’ll get some techniques on how to deal with rude or aggressive people at work so you can better manage these situations in English, and stay calm and confident.
Obviously violent behavior, sexual harrassment and discrimination is not acceptable, that isn’t what I’m talking about in this episode.
The aggressive behavior I’m referring to is verbal – such as shouting – or physical – such as slamming fists on a desk or slamming a door shut.
We are also talking about rude behavior such as spreading rumors or saying something insulting.
Let’s learn how to address these situations in a calm, direct, and effective way and make the workplace healthier and more productive.
Tip #1: Stay Constructive When Dealing with Rude Coworkers
In American work culture, the focus is on productivity and results. Consequently, there are times when work can be very stressful. People have different ways to handle stress. Some people take a walk, count to 10, or go for a run – others may… shout? Slam a door? Basically, they don’t have healthy ways to handle their stress.
For these people, they might react to a difficult, stressful situation by being aggressive. If you respond aggressively, it’s likely that you’ll aggravate the situation. It’s best to handle aggressive or rude people directly and calmly.
Unfortunately, it’s easy for our emotions to get the best of us. If it’s a high-stress, difficult situation we might let our anger influence our behavior. To reduce the risk of that, the important thing here is to keep the main subject in focus and feel confident about what you’re saying in English (it helps to practice!)
In other words, stay constructive. Always bring your colleague back to the main subject and remind them of common goals, and how collaboration is the only way to achieve those goals.
To do so, you can acknowledge what’s important.
What to say to a rude coworker to stay constructive:
“Steve, I understand you’re angry that the vendor didn’t send approval. But let’s figure out how we can find a solution and stay on schedule.”
“Lisa, I understand that the client is upset. Let’s figure out a solution together to fix this as quickly as possible.”
Tip #2: Hold your Ground Against your Rude Coworker
Sometimes a colleague may react to what you say by trying to humiliate you or suggest your opinion is not credible. For example, your colleague may say:
- “You believe that?”
- “Are you sure of your facts?”
- “Maybe you weren’t aware that…”
You may feel insulted. You may feel frustrated, and that it is just too difficult to work with Americans and their attitudes. Whatever you do, don’t react defensively.
Simply take a moment to collect your thoughts and stand your ground. Look at your colleague in the eye – even smile if you can manage it.
What to say to a rude coworker who questions your statements:
- “I do believe that.”
- “Yes, I’m sure.”
- “Yes, I checked and double checked them.”
- “Thank you for bringing that to our attention, however…”
This way, you show that you are firm in your beliefs, your facts, or your decision.
Of course, it’s a good idea to have hard facts and data to support your position, and to be ready to share these and your source for these facts with your coworker. It will be hard for them to argue with facts, especially if you know how to speak fluidly and calmly!
Tip #3: Call Out Interruptions from Rude Coworkers
One example of aggressive or rude behavior in the workplace are interruptions during a meeting.
For example, you may be in a meeting with your team and one of your colleagues aggressively interrupts another coworker who is speaking.
This behavior should not be tolerated. You can call out your rude colleague’s behavior politely though.
What to say to a rude coworker who keeps interrupting another coworker:
- “Please, Jason. Carla was speaking.”
- “Jason, please let Carla finish her thought.”
- “Wait a minute Jason, I’d like to hear what Carla has to say here.”
Sometimes that’s all that is required is to call out the rude behavior directly and ask the aggressor to stop.
Tip #4: Listen to Your Rude Coworker… no, really!
Sometimes when your coworker is rude or aggressive, it’s because they feel like no one is listening to them, or no one understands them.
As hard as it may be, try to see the situation from their perspective. When you genuinely listen to your coworker because you want to understand them, it shows.
By demonstrating empathy, an openness to listen, and the desire to figure out a solution together, they may naturally calm themselves down.
You could also try simple phrases, which can be very effective because they are simple.
What to say to a rude coworker to show you’re listening:
- “I hear what you’re saying, and I’d like to hear more about your point of view. Please, go on.”
- “I wasn’t aware of this, so thanks for letting me know.”
It also helps to repeat what your colleague said, so that they know you are listening, for example:
- “I understand that you feel left out, because you weren’t cc’d on that email. That must be very frustrating, I understand.”
And if it gets really out of hand, just be silly! Roll up some paper like a megaphone, pretend that it’s a hostage situation, and show that you are listening to their needs.
You could say something like
- “John, we understand your frustration, but think about your other coworkers. Please, put down the stapler and let’s have coffee break!” (Just kidding 😉
Tip #5: Cool Off (and Help Your Rude Coworker Cool Off, Too!)
Sometimes, you or your coworker may just need a few minutes to cool off. A change in environment can be particularly helpful. Maybe even making some conversational small talk to diffuse the situation and restore rapport with the person.
What to say to a rude coworker, to suggest a change in environment:
- “Carol, I see you’re frustrated. Do you want to get outside and go for a quick walk with me?”
- “Maybe we both need a break for a few minutes. Let’s take a break and come back after we’ve had some fresh air.”
Tip #6: Talk to Your Boss About Your Rude Coworker
Sometimes, it’s not enough to try to handle a rude coworker alone. In case of repeated incidents, or personal attacks, you may need to discuss the situation with your manager or boss.
For this, you need to plan a meeting with your supervisor. After you have a day and time to meet, you need to prepare what you want to say.
The aim is to have a positive attitude and show your boss that you want to solve a problematic situation. You are not there to whine and complain about a coworker you simply don’t like.
When you go to your meeting, begin positively. Say something like this to your supervisor:
- “Thanks for taking time to meet with me. I know you’re busy, but there’s something important I would like to discuss, regarding the behavior of John. Before I start, let me assure you, I’m not here to complain. I would like to resolve this situation, and I would like your help.”
Then, you need to expose the problem. Here’s an example:
- “When we have meetings with John to discuss our project planning, he always questions everything and seems very defensive. He constantly interrupts other coworkers while they speak. This has happened several times. I respect John’s opinions, but his behavior makes it hard for the team to advance effectively and, while I can’t speak for everyone, I feel that it creates a negative environment.”
Next, explain what you have already done to try to handle a rude coworker by yourself, and why it didn’t work. Again, be careful not to insult your coworker personally:
- “I have tried to talk to John about this, but I haven’t noticed any change in his behavior. Perhaps I didn’t express myself clearly, as I’m sure he is reasonable. This is why I would like to ask for your help, to solve this problem before it becomes a bigger issue for the entire team.”
Then, ask for some specific help, and even offer some suggestions. This shows that you have thought about ways to handle your rude coworker:
- “I’m sure we can find a solution, but I feel I have reached my limits. And I was hoping you could help. Perhaps you could arrange a meeting with John and I together, or perhaps speak with other members of the team to learn how they feel. Maybe this is simply my personal interpretation, and I need to be less sensitive.”
Finally, emphasize that you want to find a solution to make the situation better:
- “Again, I don’t want to complain or blame John. My goal is to find a solution so that everyone on the team feels comfortable, and we advance better together. And I would appreciate your help.”
With these tips and expressions, you’ll be able to diffuse many situations where you need to deal with rude or aggressive coworkers.
It’s not a comfortable situation, but with the right words and attitude, you can handle the situation confidently, even in English, and even if you have to talk to your boss about it! .
Be sure to watch the episode, so you get the intonation right for these phrases! Remember, intonation can make the difference between sounding sympathetic and polite, or rude.
Now what about you?
Has there been a situation at work where you successfully dealt with an aggressive or rude coworker?
What did you say to resolve the situation? Please share your ideas in the comments!
After all, this is not an easy situation, and your ideas will surely help others who need it! I’m looking forward to reading your comments!
If you need to increase your confidence speaking English, the best thing is regular speaking practice! And you can save -40% off your first month of speaking practice in my Faster Fluency Conversation Club!
Click here for all the details, and use the code FFCC40 to get your welcome discount when you join the club!
Thanks so much for learning with Speak English with Christina. I’ll see you next time!
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