A new day, a different battle.
In Dubai-based Anneliese Luik’s case, her co-workers would make subtle jibes about the Estonian expat’s English-speaking skills. On the other hand, Teresa Stuart, an American marketing professional from Dubai, had to contend with co-workers who would keep remarking about her clothes and outfits every day.
It’s too much, they say. It drains the rationality out of you. So, finally you use their means to hit back, as Delphine Schmidt, a French-Swiss national in Dubai, did. “They would pass sarcastic remarks every day on my work, or who I befriended in office. It went on. So, I would respond in the same tone. I was caustic and nasty, something I never thought I was. I became like them, to fight them. That’s the worst,” explains the marketing professional.
As she says, thankfully, she switched jobs within a year.
‘Rudeness comes in many forms’
Rudeness need not just be hurtful verbal exchanges; it takes different forms.
“I think workplace unpleasantness and rudeness takes so many forms,” says Ketaki Menon, a Dubai-based wellness expert, psychologist, and life coach. “Rudeness, disrespect, and uncivil behaviour doesn’t have to be just in the form of hurling insults at each other; it comes in many forms, such as isolating someone, monosyllabic responses to friendliness, and just generally making someone uncomfortable. It’s the little things and the big things,” she says. It could be texting someone when your colleague is talking to you. It could be mocking someone or making offensive jokes at their expense.
“There are so many signs of disrespect and insensitivity,” she says. It creates a harmful environment, as people stew in this negativity. Most of the time, they could just be so occupied with the situation, that they’re unable to work. “It’s draining, exhausting, and you just lose a sense of yourself. Instead of working, you’re just thinking about how your colleagues are hurting you,” she says. It just consumes you if you let it consume you.
There is a complicated web of reasons why people behave in seemingly disrespectful manners. They could see someone else as an outlet, a punching bag. It can be an unhealthy response to stress and frustration, adds Menon. Worse, they’re enabled by their circle of friends, so they begin to believe that such disrespectful mannerisms and behavioural patterns are acceptable. “It becomes part of the ‘I am like this so deal with it’ defence,” she says. So, they get defensive, if someone calls them out for it.
It’s also a way of asserting power; could be superiority or an inferiority complex. “People choose to be abrasive, aggressive, and offensive to others, as a way of masking their own inadequacy. They’re so afraid other people will see them as they see themselves. Conversely, people with superiority complex believe that they have the right to assert power over others, and no one can stop them,” she says.
Being witness to disrespect is just as damaging
Sometimes, you don’t need to be the direct target either. Dubai-based Anna Ashby (name changed on request), a British marketing professional, recalls watching her colleague being systematically isolated from the team. “My team didn’t like her, so they just ignored her. She wasn’t invited to any team lunches and didn’t get any gifts from them during the holidays. They really had no reason to dislike her, but they just kept looking for excuses, and spun so many rumours about her,” she says.
How did that make Ashby feel? “Suffocated. Helpless. I was friendly with her, but I don’t think that could change the situation. I always felt like I could do more,” she says.
“Watching someone being disrespected and get humiliated can be just as jarring,” explains Menon. “It creates an atmosphere of toxicity and unpleasantness, almost hindering any kind of productivity. Moreover, some people feel rather trapped and helpless that they can’t directly help the person being humiliated as it could involve going up against higher-ups. So, the frustration and anger begin to brew wwithin hemselves too,” she says.
How do you deal with such co-workers?
For starters, many of us wrestle with the confusion, is it me, or is it just them? This is where before anything else; you need to have self-awareness. “If you’ve looked at yourself and determined that the issue lies with your co-workers, then you need to prioritise your mental and emotional well-being,” explains Shelley Bosworth, a Dubai-based business mentor and mindset coach.
People with a sense of low self-worth will keep questioning themselves and worrying whether they are the problem, explains Menon. This makes it easier for others to guilt them into believing that they’re wrong when it isn’t their fault. “If you have such doubts, sit, and note down each instance where you felt disrespected and insulted. Think why it triggered you and the emotions it brings up. Discuss it with your close friends and family, or a strong support system,” she adds.
Next step is addressing the problems with your colleagues. However emotional you might feel, the key is to respond with professionalism and composure, adds Bosworth. “It can be so easy to react with emotion, taking things personally rather than responding calmly. The thing to remember in all areas of life is a person’s behaviour reflects them and whatever is happening in their world, not yours,” she says.
The key is to respond with professionalism and composure. It can be so easy to react with emotion, taking things personally rather than responding calmly. The thing to remember in all areas of life is a person’s behaviour reflects them and whatever is happening in their world, not yours.
You could seek a private conversation, expressing your concerns without being accusatory, Bosworth continues. Look to creating an open conversation and understand what maybe driving their rude behaviour. It might not even be what you think. “The objective is to find a resolution, not escalate the situation further. Of course, seek support if you are unsure how to approach this conversation,” she says.
The difficult conversation
Quite often, people fear the word ‘confrontation’. However, it necessarily might not be conflict. So often when faced with conflict we fear the worst and then focusing on that fear we actualise the worst through negatively driven actions, explains Bosworth.
We need to have those difficult conversations in life, to amend particularly troublesome situations. “Start calmly, clarify the problem you want to address in your mind, ask to chat, communicate clearly and assertively, balance facts and feelings, make sure it’s a two-way conversation, seek a resolution, be open to questions and feedback, thank them for hearing you out,” she says.
From the Human Resources standpoint…
If rudeness continues to the point of bullying, it can be a sackable offence, explains April Kearns, a Dubai-based Human Resources (HR) manager.
“It is very important to ensure that employees understand the business values, and the tone of voice to use. They should learn this as part of their induction process. There should be regular training sessions on how to behave in different settings, which could also direct conversations during performance appraisals,” adds Kearns.
It is very important to ensure that employees understand the business values, and the tone of voice to use. They should learn this as part of their induction process. There should be regular training sessions on how to behave in different settings, which could also direct conversations during performance appraisals.
If people do lack common courtesy, and others start complaining of an employee being rude, the HR or line manager should take cognisance. “They should have direct examples of how they were rude, and how they could be done differently. These conversations should be documented and referred to, when repeated instances occur,” she says.
However, when people continue being rude to the point of employees raise concerns of bullying, it could be a sackable offence. “A thorough investigation should be made into the claims, and if they prove to be correct, a formal warning should be issued followed by a period to correct the behaviour. If the situation doesn't improve, this could lead to termination,” says Kearns.