A Lesson: How to Respond to Rude People

By: Sonia Di Maulo, Feedback Enthusiast

When I was Young

When I was young my mother taught me not to respond to people who were rude. She would say, “Better to let them be.” The advice proved to be destructive in my personal and professional life.

What I wish I had learned was how:

  • To tell someone that it was not acceptable to be rude.
  • To magically get them to stop infecting others.

The real question is how do we stop disrespectful emotions from flowing from one person to another. Destructive words crush the spirit, hijack our self-respect, and infect future words, actions, and thoughts.


The Dry Cleaner

A few years ago I had a self-realization about how not to respond to rude people. Through this discovery I learned how to do it right!

That day, the woman who served me exuded rudeness. Her words were obnoxious and disrestectful. Her body language and facial expressions made me shudder. It was a bad scene! In the past, I would accept the rude behaviour & walk away, just like my mother taught me. But that day I realized an important lesson: it’s not acceptable to accept someone’s bad day.


How it Turned Out

I told her that her behavior was unacceptable and that she was being rude. She then went from being disresctful to defensive; a really bad combination that kicked off an unpleasant exchange. My heart was racing, my day was ruined, and now I had to find a new dry cleaner!

I learned that:

  • It feels really bad when I let someone else’s bad day infect mine.
  • I had to find a different way to express myself! 

I felt disresected by her words and actions and wondered if there was anything I could have done to change her day around and save other’s days from being ruined.


How it Should Have Happened

I replayed the event in my mind. I realized that it really happened differently. After realizing that she was having a bad day I reacted like this:

With a smile, I asked her how her day was going. She looked at me with a growl.  Then I asked if there was anything I could do to change her day around. She let out a huge sigh and shook her head. I paid for my stuff and went home!

As I left her I realized that I had the power to engage in a respectful discussion with a disrespecful person. And I was able to respect myself when other people did not. I have no control over her future actions but hopefully I was able to stop the “bad vibes” from flowing to each new customer that entered the store.  More importantly, I was able to continue to have a great day – I am the master of my actions!

Have you ever been the victim of rudeness?  How did you respond? Did you respect yourself? Did you manage to stop the bad behavior from spreading?


Sonia Di Maulo is a Feedback Enthusiast, Professional Speaker and Performance Improvement Consultant. Current mission: Helping people to offer and ask for powerful inspiring Feedback. Are you ready?

She would love to hear from you… share your feedback stories and successes!

  Posted in: Feedback Tips

10 Responses

  1. Mark A Sturgell - March 5, 2010

    Nice article, Sonia. Reminds me of “the two most powerful questions in the world”, which I learned several years ago and pass them along to my clients now. They are almost universally powerful and effective, including when i meet a “rude” person.

    I often simply ask one or both of these questions: “How can I help?” “What can I do?”

    Stress is caused by unmet needs. Rudeness is nearly always a sign of prolonged, even chronic stress. So I merely attempt (emphasis on attempt) to become an antidote by asking questions that go right to meeting another person’s needs.

    Thank you for reminding me to use these questions when i meet someone rude, rather than allowing them to ruin my day…and ruin me.

  2. Thomas Waterhouse - March 5, 2010

    I have dealt with my share of truculent teens in my career, and yes, they came to me with doctorates in rudeness! 🙂 Since I think of respect as a core value that I act out of rather than something that someone earns, they were always frustrated at my style of engaging. In fact, my respect actually created more rudeness for a time but over time, they invariably connected on a productive level. I think the distinction is between being reactive based on emotions (how people and circumstances make us feel) and being proactive based on higher values. I LOVE your approach of showing love and concern, the GREAT antidote for people acting out of hurt with rudeness. Great message Sonia! Thank you.

  3. Steve Broe - March 6, 2010

    Thanks Sonia, your example and mental improvement are helpful descriptions. I think some people who are rude are in pain, and I like to react to the loving person beyond the rude or hurtful behavior. Sometimes I have enough presence of mind to remember that the other person has had better moments; and other times I react to the drama.


  4. Karen Carleton - February 13, 2012

    Great post Sonia! One strategy I’ve used with rude people: innocently why they would say or think that, letting them know I don’t understand what I had done or said to get their response since I had no ill-will intended towards them. Typically this results in their questioning their own behavior and apologizing. Unfortunately, I haven’t always chosen the high-road and have found myself emotionally hijacked instead, which ruins my normally good mood and adds to theirs.

  5. Sonia Di Maulo - February 24, 2012

    Hi Karen,

    When I am face-to-face with a rude person (especially when I am the customer)… I am in shock! So my emotional response is delayed and that’s when I feel deflated, too (like you). I try to take the high road by being overly friendly instead of taking blame (by asking about what I may have done to get that response, as you suggest). The pain they are feel is internal and has NOTHING to do with me.

    Rude people are not aware that their actions are affecting others… I try to change their mood by spreading some good cheer and humor. There is enough pain out their!!!

    Thanks for your comment and for adding to the conversation.


  6. Tracey - February 15, 2012

    There was a checker at a drug store that was always extremely rude. I always say “Hi, how are you?” when it’s my turn at the checkout no matter what store I’m at. This lady was extremely rude every single time and was that way with everyone. She just seemed hateful.

    Then one day when I asked her how she was and she didn’t respond, in a very nice but loud tone I said “The proper response would be to say…I’m fine, thank you…or I’m having a rough day…can we talk later?” and I smiled at her. She grinned a bit and then was much more polite to the people behind me.

    Her demeanor was completely different after that.

  7. Sonia Di Maulo - February 24, 2012


    Thank you for sharing this story. Rude people are aching to be touched and understood… and shaken out of their inner focus. You rock! And I bet you make a lot of other customers happier too. 🙂


  8. Sunny Marella - October 7, 2012

    Beautiful post Sonia.I am actually the person who was being rude for the past 1 year.I had a career failure 1 year back,after which my character completely changed.I got angry fast,spoke harshly,intruded on conversations and wanted everything to centre around me.Luckily,a few good Samaritans took me in,sat me down every evening and explained what I was doing wrong.It took me 2 months to get back to understanding etiquette,discipline and take into account other people’s feelings.It goes to show that the important social skills don’t ‘stick’ for life.They need to be practised and reminded to those who forget.

  9. Sonia Di Maulo - October 9, 2012

    Hello Sunny!

    Thank you for stopping by and for sharing so openly. Congratulations for getting your “new you” to stick! The road to learning about yourself has opened up to so many amazing social possibilities for you to connect with others in a powerful positive way.

    Your story here is an inspiration in and of itself!


  10. georgie - April 14, 2014

    I have a new neighbor who moved across the street. Every time this person would have eye contact, it would be the evil-eye. Have ñever spoken to this person. This person would really make a point to let you know they were seen. This has been during the winter months. Now that the nicer, warmer weather is approaching, we do enjoy gardening. I really don’t know what he’s so angry about. I was shoveling snow in the driveway day, not long after he, his wife, and their son (around 9 yrs. old), he came storming out his front door, with some very vulgar words. Ranting on like that going to his car, it’s a long driveway. I just turned around and that was the first evil-eye and it’s just a very uncomfortable feeling. This home is a rental which my next door neighbor has rented to four different people, which all have been not so friendly. Now I am making plans to move. My question is do just continue to ignore him as I have been?

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