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Common job issues and solutions in Workplace Communication Skills

Snarky, Snappy & Sarcastic


{#/pub/images/bullyatwork.jpg}No, Snarky, Snappy and Sarcastic are not the names of three additional dwarfs.  If they were, I think Snow White would not have been so optimistic!   Ever been in a great mood only to have a rude remark waylay your cheery disposition?  What to do?  What to do?  This is not to be confused with the seriously detrimental effects of bullying on employees’ psyche and health.  I’m talking about the under-one’s-breath-day-ruiner, the run-in you wish you had NOT experienced or the (ahem) gesture you received while driving into the parking deck this morning. 


Do you walk away and fume?  Bite your tongue?  Pretend the person does not exist?  Do you view them as internal customers, believing they are the king or queen and you should accept the behavior? It may be smart; nonetheless, it can leave a mark and, potentially, cause YOU to react. 


How do we handle the case of the rude coworker? 




1. Consider the Source  


Let’s get factual.  Is this a recently established pattern of behavior or a one-time remark?  Could this person just be having a bad day or is this really a bad decade?  I’m quite sure folks who are having a bad day didn’t take their shower this morning wishing for their day to tank!  I will make another bet that they were not trying to put a damper on your day.  It could be that they were releasing a bit of stray negative energy and you became their target.  


Maybe we can just give them the benefit of the doubt and wait for the apology tomorrow.  Perhaps it is a one–time interaction, you can surprise them with a “Sorry you feel that way” laced with genuine sympathy -- and not strychnine.  Being rude is but one choice on the behavioral continuum.  Perhaps a well-placed question like “That didn’t sound like you, is everything okay?” can go a long way in ensuring more co-workers don’t end up in the line of sight.  You may also find out what really is going on.  You can’t solve symptoms.


2. Get The Drift 


If this is a continuing pattern, perhaps the person is not aware of the impact of their statements and would be genuinely surprised they have affected you.  Maybe they think that they are not important and seeking a rise to feel human themselves.  Maybe they believe that misery really does love company?  Maybe getting a rise out of people has a pay-off for them.  Maybe ….I’m making up stories to justify their behavior!   


If it is a persistent pattern – and impacts productivity – then it is not merely a nuisance.  It is a problem that needs resolution.  As with most problems, we need a cool head to assess with objectivity.  If the rude person impacts service levels, causes wasted time or impacts your culture negatively, it is no longer a simple case of rudeness, it is a business imposition.  It could even be a misrepresentation of the values of the company. 


3. Redirect!


I am going to assume you aren’t interested in a one-time behavior being repeated or the pattern continuing.  What can you do that has a shot at instigating change? 


  • Watch your tone.  Just because they are unhappy doesn’t mean you have to respond in kind. 

  • In a normal voice with genuine curiosity, ask the person what it is that they are hoping to accomplish. 

  • Ask them if they accomplished it or not with you.  If not, advise them –“What works better for me when you have this issue is to …….”   If they really do want to see a change, you have just given them the keys to get to the result they want. 

  • Or ask them to explain how their comments are helping achieve whatever goal you both are going after.  Perhaps they have a kernel you need to hear.  We can’t always assume it’s just them.  We may have been their trigger!



We all have ways we influence each other.  Some of our coworkers can choose behaviors we view as rude.  We can put up with it or we can figure it out.  If we put up with it, we should ask, “At what cost?”  If their behavior is impacting business or productivity, we need to address the situation.  Rather than running for a supervisor, try the tips here.  


Rude is user-defined.  We need to get on the same wavelength.  Many people who others perceive as snarky, snappy or sarcastic may not understand the impact they have and how detrimental their behavior is to their ultimate aim.  You can help illuminate a different option that will help them get what they really want.  We are assuming that they really do not want everyone to be miserable!  ;)


What’s the payoff for you?  We don’t all know how to deal with rude people otherwise there would be no need for this article.  We'd just say things like “how rude!” rather than trying to figure it out.  This skill is an important tool to have in your quiver of conflict management skills. 



{#/pub/images/SherriPetroUpdated.jpg}Written by Sherri Petro, President of VPI Strategies & California Miramar University (CMU) Professor Sherri is a professor, accomplished strategist, organizational development professional and executive coach.  She consulted for 13 years in the for-profit, non-profit, and government sectors after a 16 year corporate career.  She teaches the Strategy Capstone as well as Leadership, Change Management and Business Ethics courses in CMU’s MBA program. Her current passion is educating organizations on how to increase organizational sustainability by leveraging the talents and skills of all in multi-generational workplaces. Sherri offers remedies to misunderstandings that result from different belief structures and lack of coherent communication by creating understanding and making connections at the belief level not only at the behavioral level.


Do you have a question for Sherri?  Please visit our Workplace Communication Skills Community, she will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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