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The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and total well-being of their employees first. Register for the 2020 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at: This series of articles supports the award.

How do you know when a person in your workplace has been rude to you?

When you answer this question, you may find it difficult to come up with a specific description. Most of us don’t consciously determine when someone has been rude. Our unconscious brain has a filter that’s constantly screening the world we interact with, and when it perceives someone as being rude it immediately lets us know – often with a flash of emotional pain.

Rudeness is a form of workplace incivility, which can be defined as low-intensity, deviant behaviour that can negatively affect others. It falls on a continuum from minor (ignoring a co-worker) to name calling to harassment (playing hurtful practical jokes). The better we learn to cope with rudeness, the less likely it can have a negative impact on our workplace experience and perceived stress level.


When we perceive a peer being rude to us, we seldom evaluate it on a scale from low to high. We automatically evaluate it as being rude, acceptable or impolite.

Eliminating rudeness begins by each employee becoming aware of their behaviour and how it may be perceived by others. Our experiences shape our social norms with respect to what we think is acceptable. For some, cursing is a part of normal speaking that may blind them to being aware and appreciating how the odd F-bomb is not welcomed by others.

If a peer keeps talking during a meeting when you’re speaking, would you consider that an act of rudeness? Rudeness is ultimately defined by the receiver, not the sender.

Reducing the chance of being rude begins with awareness of our own behaviour and that, regardless of our intentions, if our behaviour is perceived by another as being rude, we’ll stop it, quickly acknowledge it and correct our mistake.


Many kinds of behaviours can fall under the umbrella of rudeness. Taking the last cup of coffee and not refilling the pot, not cleaning up after oneself, not acknowledging someone who says good morning and not paying attention to voice volume in open work areas are a few examples.

When allowed, rudeness can become a breeding ground for increased rates of incivility that can range from minor to more serious forms, such as harassment.

Each of us can play an important role in eliminating rudeness by committing to treat others in a manner that’s respectful for them, as well as developing skills to confront rudeness when it happens to us or others in the workplace.


One way to reduce rudeness in the workplace is to confront it when it happens as quickly as you can. Following are some coaching tips to reduce your risk for exposure to rudeness:

  • Share your expectations – Be pro-active by setting clear expectations with people you interact with on the kinds of behaviours you find rude. Be specific (texting in a meeting) and be prepared to explain why you believe the behaviour is rude. It’s best not to assume others think the same as you or have the same social norms.
  • Rudeness is never okay – If you find yourself starting to make an excuse for why someone was rude to you, ask yourself why. Rudeness is never okay. What you do with rudeness will ultimately be your choice. To stop rudeness, acknowledge that it’s never okay, and then decide what you will and will not do.
  • Be consistent – Have one standard. If there are behaviours – such as texting in a meeting – you find rude, then don’t engage in such behaviours yourself. By role modelling a standard, you set the social norm for what you expect. This reinforces what you expect from yourself and others.
  • Confront rudeness with kindness – When you feel someone has been rude to you, acknowledge the behaviour and why you feel it’s rude. When you’re calm, confront the person with the goal of preventing it from reoccurring. Do it in a private space, in a non-confrontational manner. The objective is to educate the person that you found their behaviour rude and want it stopped. When confronted in a non-threatening manner, most will either agree and apologize or acknowledge they got the message and will stop.
  • If fearful confronting rudeness – If you’re unsure and fearful as to how to deal with a person who has been rude, keep in mind that you don’t have to take this on alone. Engage a trusted peer, manager or employee and family assistance representative to get support on how to come up with options to confront and stop the rudeness in a way you feel confident and safe.

Read about the 2019 winners of the award and watch a video from the winners here. You can also purchase the benchmark report that outlines findings from 2018 at this link.

Bill Howatt is the founder of Howatt HR Consulting and a co-creator of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

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