Wrestling with Rudeness: Advice for Addressing Incivility

Source: Johns Hopkins University:

Released: Thu 12-Jun-2008, 08:00 ET


P.M. Forni, "Johns Hopkins University's resident civility maven" wrote a book called "The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude." which seems to be a very interesting and relevant source of reference.

The real problem with rudeness is how to react and what to do when we do experience rudeness; and we will experience it as we all know. Forni's practical answer is: "If we are consistently considerate, even in the face of rudeness, others will often match our behavior. That, he says, is the civility solution."

Furthermore, in the press release we are told:

"An example of the user-friendly advice in The Civility Solution for dealing with such sticky situations is "The SIR Sequence," Forni's shorthand for "state, inform and request." Namely:

• State the facts.

• Inform the other person of the impact he or she has had on you.

• Request that the hurtful behavior not be repeated.

"Do so politely, firmly, and unapologetically," Forni says. "And do it sooner rather than later. You will be more effective and won't have to dread doing it in the future.""

My Comments

In my opinion, there is know doubt that rudeness is a form of aggression. And like all aggression we can assume it to be a form of strategy to neutralise or defeat a real or perceived opponent. As Forni suggests civility is the key especially when we do not know how physically strong the other person can be. Rudeness can easily lead to an altercation.

From a language point of view our choice of words can easily imply rudeness if not incivility. However, a vey big note of caution, language (and behaviour) does not always travel well between cultures and other languages. What's rude in one culture, might be normal in another.

Some of my favourite examples I can remember from the past are:

  • I was with a group of sales people in Cape Town, S. Africa, having dinner when the waiter accidentally dropped some food on the shirt of one of these people. This guy's instant reaction was to shout at the waiter basically telling him that he was going to sue him for his wages and insisting at the same time he buys him a new shirt etc etc. We were, of course, all shocked with his rudeness towards the poor waiter. This guy's lame excuse for shouting at the waiter was that he thought he was in New York!

  • Waiting in line at the greengrocer's in Italy, I was astonished with what I thought was a case of rudeness but locally was normal behaviour. Back to the greengrocer, he was fussing with a young child in the arms of its mother. Well, mother and grocer were really into the ritual when the grocer picked up a large orange from his stall and gave it to the child. Who duly grabbed it with both hands. I was watching all this and of course I was waiting for the big thank you from the child and or mother. After five more minutes of fussing there was still no thank you; then mother and child moved on. When I mentioned this to my friends, I was told this there was no need to say thank you at every occasion; I was not sure about this. But I certainly became a source of mirth for my friends for saying thank you and please as one is expected to do in the UK.

  • The third case, is more of an illustration of how some rude people can also be really stupid. Anyway, I was with a friend at a rather volatile (due to drink) and emotional event when this young twenty something woman came in front of us hold a huge camera and lens and who made sure that everyone around her knew that she was a photo journalist. When my friend asked her if she intends to stay in front us when the event started -we were in a good location, and places were on a first come first served basis- she practically told him to shut up and she intends to do what she wants. To cut a long story short and knowing my friend very well, I literally had to put myself between my friend and the woman because I knew what might have happened. My forcefully pushing her out of the way saved the day for all concerned.

Related Web sites:

P.M. Forni's Civility Web site

A Q&A with P.M. Forni

Choose Civility in Howard County (Md.)

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