How to Stop Yourself From Being Rude at Work

Updated 10/02/19
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Coworkers sitting at a table discussing pencil drawn sketches.
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Sometimes it can feel as if we live in a time when no one values civility. A livery driver who doesn’t help put a suitcase into the car, meeting with neighbors' blank stares after saying hello, and a litany of unanswered emails in the workplace are simple acts of rudeness that add up quickly—and often go unchecked.

At work, especially, little things, like neglecting to tend to the printer when you realize it's out of paper, insensitively stepping on others' private conversations, and even making the occasional snide comment contributes, slowly but surely, to your coworkers hating you, you hating your coworkers, and you eventually hating your whole job. (It's a vicious cycle.)

There's no better time than now to stop yourself from being rude and impolite at work—because if you keep acting badly, it could mean the loss of your livelihood. Renowned etiquette expert, Jacqueline Whitmore, teaches people how to stop being rude and start being esteemed members of the workforce. Here, her indispensable tips, as told to Entrepreneur.

Learn How To Communicate

"Business etiquette is about proper communication. The purpose is to build positive relationships that enable a working environment to function in the most favorable way to all concerned: coworkers and customers alike. Foster an environment of respect and respectful interaction,” says Whitmore. Don't cut coworkers down in front of others, pay a kind compliment now and then, and avoid engaging in spiteful office gossip.

Curb Negative Body Language

"Incivility and rudeness frequently occur during face-to-face communication because messages are delivered verbally as well as through tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions," Whitmore points out. "These non-verbal cues represent our internal perceptions, feelings, and motives, which may be misinterpreted by the receiver, based on his or her own experiences and perceptions." Meaning: Keep those crossed arms, heavy sighs, smirks, and pained grimaces in check.

If you have any kind of issue with a coworker, address it ASAP so you don't reflexively roll your eyes every time she blurts out something that aggravates you.

Ask For Clarification

“How you say something is just as important as what you say. Effective communication is not achieved until the message sent is clearly received,” explains Whitmore. "So take a moment to echo back what you hear, especially if you don’t understand what is being said. Ask for clarification before the intended message gets lost in translation and you jump to conclusions," she adds.

Reread Emails Before Sending

Texts and emails are ripe for misinterpretation, simply because we can't see the sender’s face or hear their tone of voice. "Try to deliver a complete, clear message instead of firing off a short, flip answer," advises Whitmore. "Also, humor and sarcasm rarely convey well in electronic communications," she notes. Read and reread your emails; the shorter and on-topic they are, the better. And avoid personal and resentful asides about how something makes you feel.

Schedule A Face-To-Face

Whitmore also cautions against relying too much on technology, such as emails and interoffice chats, to get our points across. "If the message starts to become too long or complicated, pick up the phone or set up a face-to-face meeting," she says. And whenever possible, "opt for social interaction. Electronic messages...don’t foster relationship-building," adds Whitmore.

Think Before Reacting

Before angerly reacting to a perceived workplace slight, take a breath and consider how your words and body language might be received. “Communication is a two-way street," says Whitman. "Be sincere, ask meaningful questions, and give the other person a chance to share opinions or ideas."

Required Reading

A moratorium on workplace rudeness may not happen overnight: Learn how to stop being rude at work via practical coping mechanisms, tools for effective office communication, and ways to curb job anxiety as taught by these three helpful books.

On Cultivating Essential Business Skills

A yellow book cover with red and black writing entitled, Works Well With Others.
Ross McCammon Works Well With Others $14
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On Mastering Workplace Professionalism

A turquoise book cover with black and gold writing entitled, Poised For Success.
Jacqueline Whitmore Poised For Success $15
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On Commonsense Courteousness At Work

A yellow book cover with black writing entitled, Mastering Civility.
Christine Porath Mastering Civility $15
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