Working at Debrett’s means we’re held to high account for our behaviour. People are often surprised to find, when they meet us in person, that we’re not all experts in exiting a vehicle, performing a curtsey, or stirring a cup of tea (making one is a different matter).
In other respects, this level of expectation is positive: it means that we’re constantly checking ourselves, striving to be polite and helpful at work. We hope that we mostly deliver on this intention, although even we have our off-days!
But should manners and politeness really require effort, or should they be instinctive, unconscious?
There are times when being polite isn’t easy, even for the most serene and saintly. You might be tired, stressed or feeling unwell. Or you might encounter a level of rudeness that simply makes your blood boil.
It could be an aggressive phone call, a door released in your face, an ignorant remark on social media, or an elbow shoving you out of the way. Whatever the provocation, the sheer rudeness stokes inner rage and distorts our more rational tendencies.
What do you do in these circumstances? Do you respond in kind? Politely call the individual out on their behaviour? Or ignore and rise above it? We’ve assessed the options:
1. Respond in Kind
You know how it goes: you counter a sarcastic Twitter comment with an even more devastating retort. You rush ahead of someone purely so that you can slam the next door in their face. Fighting fire with fire may be the lowest form of conflict denominator, but it’s certainly satisfying.
As demonstrated by: the numerous celebrities (and world leaders) who have made social media spats into an artform.
Best for: letting off steam
Not advisable when: your opponent is a long-standing colleague: sarcasm or aggression won’t do much for your professional credibility. If someone is a repeat rude offender, take them aside when you’re feeling calmer and speak to them in private. Oh, and best not to take on J K Rowling either.
2. Call them Out
“Excuse me, you appear to have dropped something” or, “There are children here, could you please stop swearing?” – politely or humorously drawing attention to someone’s rudeness can be effective, but it may also make them feel embarrassed and defensive. Deploy this technique with caution.
As demonstrated by: Alice Arnold, who threw a discarded bottle back through a litterbug’s car window, or Andy Murray, correcting an interviewer’s casual sexism.
Best for: feeling superior.
Not advisable when: you feel intimidated or threatened, or risk humiliating someone – by confronting them in front of their colleagues, for example.
Once again, the man with the briefcase barges past you to take the last remaining seat in the carriage. Your heart is racing and you’re inwardly seething, but somehow you contain your anger, ignore and move on… Until the next day, when the same thing happens.
As demonstrated by: the Royal Family, who have deployed regal restraint in the face of countless provocations.
Best for: dealing with lone, minor incidents, thoughtlessness or sheer ignorance.
Not advisable when: there’s a genuine long-standing issue to address. The problem will only fester and get worse if you leave it unmentioned, so be assertive, polite (naturally) and initiate that difficult conversation.