Everyone (unfortunately) at some time in their working life will have had the unpleasant experience of a colleague or superior behaving rudely or in an unacceptably aggressive or hostile manner towards them.

Rude behaviour can arise as a result of short-lived stressors and tensions such as a business or personal crisis, or it can be part of a repeated pattern of behaviour, in which the transgressor has formed a habit of being rude or aggressive, or somehow feels entitled to behave in an inconsiderate manner towards others.

The spectrum of rude behaviour is large, and made more complicated by our own past life experience which influences how we each react. Examples include being unfairly judged, being verbally abused, having our work contributions undervalued, being blamed for problems we are not responsible for, as well as simple bad manners.

Our response at the time may range from mild annoyance to a full-blown physical fight-or-flight response, with racing heart, nausea, cold extremities, tunnel vision and shaking hands.

However, many of us don’t consider that our response to the experience later in time, well after the event, may be doing us real harm.

A common way in which this can be the case is when being treated rudely impacts on sleep patterns. Dwelling on the experience, wishing we had responded better, and worrying about repeat experiences are all common reactions, and when such thought patterns carry over the working day into our personal and sleep time, they can be very disruptive.

Difficulty detaching from work after work time, trouble getting to sleep, and waking up during sleep time all impact on sleep quality, which in turn impacts on productivity at work, quality of life, and even health.

The solutions to this work health and safety problem really should be lead and modelled from the top, for example by top management:

  • demonstrating civility and respect in their own interactions in the workplace,
  • not sending work-related communications outside work hours, and
  • explicitly stating the organisation’s commitment to civil and respectful treatment of each other.

If management are neglecting their duties in this regard, workers can also try the following strategies:

  • politely and calmly request the rude person not to speak/act in that way,
  • use active listening to ensure they know they are being heard and understood, while still making it clear the rudeness or aggression is unacceptable,
  • demonstrate good behaviour yourself – remain polite and calm, as reacting with anger will only escalate the situation, and
  • actively disrupt the mental merry-go-round after work by taking a mental break, e.g. doing something relaxing or undertaking physical exercise after work can help take your mind off the events.
  • Know your organisations position on bullying.  Is there a documented Bullying Policy and / or procedure? 
  • If you feel that the perpetrator’s behaviour constitutes bullying, report this to your workplace.
  • If you are experiencing or witnessing any behaviour that involves violence (e.g. physical assault or the threat of physical assault) you should report it to the police.

Please contact QRMC for more information.