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“Rudeness is the weak person’s imitation of strength.” – Eric Hoffer
Road warrior consultants often over cocktails share epic stories of rude that happen in planes, trains and automobiles. I happen to be in possession of some big-time OMG 😒 gross stories. No worries about vivid images that can’t be unseen because this post is about different rudeness in the workplace. This rudeness stems from insecurity and can destructively mask bigger leadership issues.
“We’ll see if you have a spine.”
Rude Reveal 1: Ignorant rude
The spine quote is from a director-level person experienced in her industry having a conversation with me about a large, important project. I was assigned by her boss to advise her and the project. My questions were answered with personal preferences instead of strategic rationale. She probably knew that because I could see the anger coloring her face just as she blurted out the comment. Not being able to articulate strategic substance was frustrating and she lashed out at me. Her rude comment was a manifestation of emotional control limitations. Future emotional control issues are predictable after an exchange like this and she did escalate later. Out of control emotions can easily eclipse bigger performance issues, such as lack of strategic skills. If bosses turn away from seeing unpleasant emotional problems they are also turning a blind eye to all the other inevitable performance issues. That’s when a rude exchange becomes a series of dominos falling.
Another story that illuminates this is when two executive leaders on separate occasions threw comments on work products at my head. Aside from asking myself why this keeps happening, I use these stories for a bit of humor. But the first reaction is about the not-so-funny issue of workplace violence. For me, I am far more offended that the violent act was sparked by ignorance of business issues and solutions. It wasn’t that they disagreed with my work product per se. Looking at their comments in writing, it was clear they didn’t understand the fundamentals underlying the businesses they ran. Worse, they couldn’t ask for help from me or anyone else. So, like the first story in this post, they lashed out.
Both of these stories have (at least) two key takeaways for leaders about how ignoring serial rudeness is ignoring emotional control problems and a whole bunch of other outages in leadership skills.
1. In these situations, the people involved could choose to make me their best friend or an enemy. Some pretty glaring holes exist in performance. I didn’t create the holes, but I could have helped them get rid of them. If leaders can’t learn it’s a very bad sign. If they lash out instead of working through a problem, it will end up badly.
2. In all of these situations, higher order executives were aware of leadership issues if not the actual emotional problems. If the bosses actually faced the cause rather than looking away, they also would have seen serious performance problems and behaviors counterproductive to culture and values. It’s a responsibility of leaders to stop the dominos from falling one after another. Otherwise they really shouldn’t be leaders.
There are many other rude reveals in the workplace that should not be ignored because they too bring to light performance and culture problems when they happen. Here are a few more:
Rude Reveal 2: Slippery slope rude
The divorced dad metaphor Michelle Obama recently used is a great example of slippery slope rude. I love Michelle Obama so it pains me to use this, but the example is illuminating. When she attacked another leader, she was already on a slippery slope. Simultaneously attacking another large group of people made the slide faster so backlash became inevitable calling her biased, rude and un-woke. Slippery slope rude teaches us we should really stay on the high road and not try to visit the low one from time to time.
Rude Reveal 3: Know-it-all rude
For fair balance and because it is current, the POTUS tweet about the Notre Dame tragedy was rudely overbearing and ill-timed. All that is required in the moment, unless you are an expert in fire containment in medieval treasures, is support, love and encouragement. Know-it-all rudeness exists when the situation absolutely calls for an expert, you are not one, but you inappropriately chime in anyway.
Rude Reveal 4: Can’t deal with conflict rude
This rude reveals more leadership limitations that damage teams, performance and culture. If you can’t or won’t manage conflict that exists in teams, issues and decision-making, you are not and should not be a leader. Leaders who can’t/won’t deal with conflict often are described by many inside the organization as nice. Nice is great but it should not be used to deflect leadership responsibility for conflict resolution. Ultimately someone must handle it, so foisting your problems off on others because you don’t like unpleasantness is pretty rude.
Rude Reveal 5 &6: Redirect Rude and Busy Rude
Redirect rude and busy rude are offshoots of can’t deal with conflict rude. Redirect rude happens when a leader redirects the conversation in meetings to someone else because they can’t deal directly with knowledge or questions and don’t want to engage in or finish a debate of issues and ideas with you. Everyone is always going to possess some kind of agenda and communication styles vary. Redirect rude is passive aggressive, it limits healthy debate, and is manipulative. Busy rude is similar. Everyone is busy, we are all tired of hearing about it and it shouldn’t be used as a reason to avoid handling issues and performance problems.
Everyone has a few moments of honest mistake rude. Serial rudeness points to underlying impulse, anger and emotional control problems. Serial rudeness masks bigger abilities issues. Leaders cannot turn a blind eye or the consequences to culture and performance can be major.
We are all going to do and say rude things in the heat of moments throughout our careers. That’s very different than people who make a career out of these kinds of manipulations. And, they are manipulations. Most leaders with a bunch of career years behind them have known or worked for at least one rage-aholic executive who has been allowed to thrive for decades despite the destructiveness. It’s a simple equation about why the behaviors must be addressed. Rude exposes insecurities, they are signs of emotional control problems and are masking tape to even larger performance problems. As leaders responsible for culture, performance and talent development, we can do better for our companies than letting this virus spread. It’s viral because the behaviors compound. They rub off on other team members and create sweeping negativity. No doubt it is an unpleasant responsibility managing these rude folks out of the behaviors or out of the organization. But it is necessary to face and handle. The good news is that once you do, you’ll be left with a happier team, a healthier culture and higher level of performance.