Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


Someone Else's Bad Behavior Is No Excuse for Your Own

There has been a lot of discussion about uncivil behavior lately, including in the media. For example:
-A recent Washington Post article, “When we fight fire with fire: Rudeness can be as contagious as the common cold, research shows,” discussed mounting research that shows rudeness can cause employees to be chronically distracted, less productive, and less creative.  

-CBS This Morning talked about how incivility is rampant in our world today in a segment entitled: “Where's the civility in America? How rude behavior is contagious.”   

Rudeness can be contagious – but it doesn’t have to be!  You don’t have to mirror the impolite actions of others. 

The recent outbreaks of uncivil behavior in the political arena have impacted our everyday experiences. But it's time for people to fight back – politely, of course – and assert that being uncivil to one another is not the way we want public figures to behave. Nor is it the way we should behave ourselves.

People can learn to express their differences at work and at home – without resorting to bad behavior. But the change starts with you. Practice these communication tips in person and online to help foster polite behavior in your workplace and world: 

1. Understand that someone else’s bad behavior is no excuse for your own. Don’t attack back. If you respond to someone’s rude comments with your own, you are giving that person power over you – the power to get you to reply as a jerk. You don’t want to do that. I do realize that this is a hard concept to accept. But deep down you know that even though it may feel good temporarily to counter one offensive remark with another, in the long run it damages you. Comebacks along the lines of “Well, what do you know, you idiot?” are not going to build your credibility or enhance your reputation for maturity. 

2. Stay calm. Take a deep breath. Tell yourself you can handle the bad-mannered behavior of others with grace. 

3. Don’t insult people. It can be tempting to say something like, “How do you know so much about things you know nothing about?” But don’t. That’s offensive. Name-calling only inflames a situation. Cursing at people is just mean, and reflects poorly on the one doing the cursing.   

4. Speak up. You don’t have to tolerate the bad behavior of others. Faced with such a situation, many people stay passive and do not say anything, which can encourage additional bad behavior. Some people may respond aggressively. They may yell, shout, scream, ridicule, admonish, or be sarcastic or condescending, which often builds more aggression. 

But there is an alternative to being either passive or aggressive.  

You can respond to others in what I call a “polite and powerful” manner. This means you respond – you speak up – and say something in a civil manner. Make sure you look at the person and speak loudly enough to be heard. Make yourself familiar with some assertive responses, such as those below, so you are ready to use them, when appropriate.  

-Why do you say that?
-Did you mean that comment to be as nasty as it sounds?
-I’m offended by that comment.
-Help me to understand why you say this idea is so stupid.
-What information (or facts or data) do you have to support that position?
-How do you know that to be true? 

One caveat to all this advice: If somebody’s behavior makes you concerned for your physical safety, do whatever you need to do to stay safe, whether it’s leaving the area, calling for help, or some other appropriate action. 

6. Avoid controversial topics. Co-workers, customers, clients, bosses, and vendors may have very strong, and very different, opinions about hot-button topics, such as politics. You don’t want to say something that may alter someone’s opinion of you and affect your working relationships. 

5. Disagree agreeably. If you have difficulty with someone, talk to that person. Listen to what he or she has to say. You can evaluate an idea without attacking the person who is promoting it. Saying “I have difficulty with this because...” or “I see it differently and here’s why...” is a lot more productive than screaming at people or calling them names. Sometimes you may have to “agree to disagree,” and not discuss a particular topic. (Additional information on polite behavior and communication can be found in my books, The Power of Positive Confrontation and The Essentials of Business Etiquette.)  

7. Practice the “It’s hard to be nasty to people who are nice to you” attitude. Courteous behavior will beget courteous behavior. Share, wait your turn, and be gracious toward others. Keep “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me” in your vocabulary. Help people. Greet them when you see them. Be considerate when sharing space with others.  

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on business etiquette and communication skills. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141 or 

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