Have you ever had to deal with offensive customers, or colleagues? It can be a real challenge to keep your cool when your inner voice is screaming, “You’re a jerk! You’re an idiot! What would your mother think?” However, remaining calm and polite – and keeping your inner voice inside – is essential to not only staying on top of a frustrating situation, but also to retaining your equilibrium, and your sense of humour.
The first thing to remember when someone is being offensive is not to take it personally. While that person may very well be aiming their words at you, you don’t have to take it that way. You can take the high road. Simply smile and nod until they run out of steam, and then ask, “Is there something that’s bothering you? Is there a reason you’re saying these things? Can I help?” (Your inner voice, of course, is yelling,” Yes, there’s a reason you’re behaving like that – you’re an idiot.”) When you approach an offensive person with a willingness to listen without being judgmental, you may get a valuable conversation started. You may also only get a blank stare, but it’s worth a try.
Secondly, no matter what you really, really want to say, don’t respond in kind. You’ll only be acting as disrespectful and petty as the offensive person, and ultimately you will regret anything you say in anger. Take a deep breath in, a deep breath out, and then you’ll be ready to cope. (You are free to spout off later, in private, to your closest friend using every impolite word in your vocabulary. It’s a great stress reliever.) You are always free to walk away if you find yourself getting more and more irritated.
It’s good to remember, too, that people can be offensive without meaning to be. Of course, you can tell when someone is deliberately being rude, but sometimes people can be completely unaware that their behaviour or words have upset someone else. Regardless of the situation, though, you are well within your rights to say something like, “I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way, but I find what you just said rather offensive.” Approach it as if that person has no idea of the rude behaviour rather than assuming that the offensive words are deliberate. Depending on the situation, you might want to do this in private, as calling someone out in front of a group may make the situation worse.
And don’t forget, just because you are behaving in an appropriately dignified manner does not mean that the other person’s behaviour is acceptable. It’s important to let that person know in a polite yet assertive manner that you will not put up with the abuse.
But ultimately, you need to realize that a perpetually offensive person is not going to change those behaviours overnight, if at all. This may be something you are going to have to put up with. Again, taking the high road (inner voice: “Oh, I look so good by behaving like a saint, while this idiot looks like . . . an idiot.”) is the way to go, especially if it helps keep your blood pressure down. Deep breath in, deep breath out.
Finally, once you’ve done everything you can, let yourself forget about it. Don’t continue to harp on the experience – don’t dwell on jerk you had to deal with, how frustrated it made you, how you wish you had said something else, yadda yadda yadda . . .. You are just wasting your energy on something that is not worth wasting your energy on. Let it go.
Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.