Rudeness Is a Sign of Weakness, NOT Strength

Rudeness Is a Sign of Weakness, NOT Strength

“Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.” – Eric Hoffer

Many years ago, a co-worker shared her work philosophy that, at the time, seemed rather self-centered.

“Don’t make your problems my problems.”

As someone who tries to be a good listener, personally and professionally, her statement seemed unfeeling and a clear admission that she did not possess the emotional capacity (nor the interest) to be burdened by someone else’s issues.

Fast forward some 20 years, and while my relationship with that co-worker has since ceased, I am still reminded of her philosophy from time to time, though admittedly, my understanding of it has changed.

While I initially perceived her statement to be self-centered, lately, I find myself acknowledging how those who are unhappy with their lives will treat others poorly to make themselves feel better.

In psychological terms, this is called Displacement.

According to Very Well Mind, “Displacement is a psychological defense mechanism in which a person redirects a negative emotion from its original source to a less threatening recipient. A classic example of the defense is displaced aggression. If a person is angry but cannot direct their anger toward the source without consequences, they might “take out” their anger on a person or thing that poses less of a risk.”

A real-world example of displacement recently came to me through a close acquaintance, who later identified this meeting as one of the worst professional experiences of their career.

In this meeting, an audience of mid-to senior-level attendees from inside and outside the organization were gathered for what was initially intended to be a short, meaningful conversation on a shared topic.

Many expected the discussion to be positive and beneficial from the agenda, which was shared and agreed upon days before the official meeting. Collectively, they were even looking forward to engaging with each other.

However, it was clear from the onset of the meeting that two outside attendees had different ideas regarding the previously agreed upon agenda.

This duo immediately expressed aggressiveness towards others in the meeting, bordering on bullying behaviors, without any necessity or justification. 

They were obviously trying to hijack the discussion to control the narrative, slinging one rude, disrespectful comment after another toward unprepared attendees.

As others in the room were taken entirely off guard by the duo’s unwarranted behavior, what was originally thought would be a positive and beneficial meeting quickly deteriorated and ultimately became ineffective. 

Attendees began to shut down as they struggled to refocus the conversation toward something more constructive, to no avail. They feared any further disrespect (and even harassment) by those who were unreachable through logic and compassion.

The story above has undoubtedly encouraged me to have a new understanding of the philosophy, “Don’t make your problems my problems.”

Whether the duo’s issues stemmed from their personal or professional lives, they chose to bring said problems into the meeting room that day. 

In choosing to make their problems everyone else’s problems, they contaminated what was supposed to be a productive exchange of ideas while perhaps unknowingly tarnishing their reputations beyond repair.

Mind Tools states, “Rude behavior can be a way of displaying power, trying to get your own way, or provoking a reaction. It can also be a response to stress, pressure, frustration, or some other form of unhappiness. It can seriously impact team morale and productivity and even lead to aggressive and bullying behavior.”

That statement accurately describes the situation I relayed above.

It all comes down to this: many individuals cannot process their emotions, accept their realities, and check their problems at the door.

Instead, they allow the stress, pressure, frustration, or unhappiness in their own lives to infiltrate their communications and interactions with individuals around them. 

Anger and jealousy void all rational thinking and replace legitimate communication skills such as active listening, open-mindedness, and respect with hatred, which is often displaced.

Such behaviors are nothing short of bullying in the workplace and should be addressed immediately.

While some might view the individuals above as strong, take-charge kind of people, I find very little strength in someone’s inability to treat others with the respect they deserve. 

There is nothing courageous about being a bully to your colleagues, friends, and even your family in response to stress, pressure, frustration, or some other form of unhappiness.

Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business recently conducted a survey of over 2,000 American workers in 25 different industries.

The results found that 76 percent of respondents experience rudeness once a month or more at their place of employment. 

In their private lives, 84 percent of Americans experience rudeness through social media outlets more than once a week.

These results are disheartening and speak to a society that has lost the ability to effectively communicate with respect and compassion.

To be able to disagree, but still come together to exchange positive thoughts and ideas for the betterment of all.

Many scholars today believe a lack of communication skills causes this rise in professional and personal rudeness. 

In the most recent survey, 32% of people would rather communicate via text, 51% of teens would rather communicate digitally than in person (even with friends), and 1 in 4 socialize more online than face-to-face.

Technology has normalized poor communication habits and caused many individuals to lose their ability to have meaningful, appropriate, and constructive conversations with people at work, in social environments, and at home. 

Simply put, we have lost our capacity to be effective communicators. As a society, we no longer take time to think before communicating; we just react.

According to an article by Manhattan Mental Health Counseling titled, What is Emotional Reactivity, “When we feel stressed, angry, or hurt, we tend to react impulsively. We are in a state of fight-or-flight and tend to react emotionally, that is, to overreact. That overreaction is emotional reactivity. At this point, there is no listening going on anymore. Our emotions and defenses are driving our behaviors.”

While there are many online courses, videos, and readings designed to help improve our communication skills at work and at home, I came across a much simpler tool that, if practiced regularly, would significantly improve our communication.

Before you speak, THINK.

T = Is it True?

H = Is it Helpful?

I = Is it Inspiring?

N = Is it Necessary?

K = Is it Kind?

For me, the philosophy “Don’t make your problems my problems” has evolved over the years. 

What I once saw as a self-centered approach to dealing with relationships has now reminded me of how unhappy many people are, channeling that unhappiness into rudeness toward those who are undeserving.

It is time we dare to call out such destructive behaviors and rudeness.

To say respectfully that there is no reason for you to treat me so poorly, and I will no longer engage in this conversation as long as you continue to do so.

Remember, a bully is not so tough when someone diffuses the situation by refusing to be mistreated.