A reader writes:
About a month ago, I wrote to you about a coworker of mine who would ask me questions and then turn around and ask another colleague the same exact question. After I wrote you, this coworker stopped with that weird habit, but now she’s rubbing me the wrong way for a different reason.
Like you, I’m a straightforward person and am very direct with people when necessary. For instance, when coworkers aren’t pulling their weight, I politely let them know that I could use their help completing X. I don’t make a big deal of it and I never say it in an unprofessional manner. Another time, I approached a manager in a different department after that manager berated me for a minor mistake that had no major implications. After letting some time pass to cool down, I calmly apologized for the mistake and let her know that I don’t respond well to people yelling at me and would appreciate it if she didn’t talk to me like that in the future.
Because of seeing things like this, this coworker thinks I’m the meanest person in the world, and she tells me this multiple times per day. Even if I’m asked to give an opinion about a new restaurant and give it a bad review, she’ll yell, “You’re so rude!” For some reason, this coworker associates directness and not sugarcoating things with being mean and rude.
I’m in no way mean or rude to anyone I encounter and she’s the only person who has ever said this to me. Since you seem to be pretty direct, have you ever encountered anything like this? I feel like if I were a man, she wouldn’t blink twice.
Wow. She sounds like the rude one. And I’d actually suggest a response along those lines, which I’ll get to in a minute.
But honestly, her behavior is bizarre. There are certainly plenty of people whose style is not to be so direct, and who do experience it as a little jarring or abrasive. But these people tend not to do things like yell, “You’re so rude!” with such little provocation, if at all. By definition, they tend to find that type of reaction over-the-top and … jarring and abrasive.
So I don’t know what’s up with her, but she doesn’t sound like your typical I-prefer-diplomacy-to-directness type.
In any case … The next time she makes one of these comments to you, reply calmly, “Jane, your telling me unsolicited that you think I’m rude simply because we have different communication styles is what I find rude. Please stop commenting about this sort of thing.”
And if she keeps it up after that, say, “Jane, I’ve asked you clearly to stop calling me mean and rude. Please stop speaking to me that way.” Repeat as necessary.
The key, though, is that you need to say this utterly calmly, not heatedly. You don’t want to get into a pissing match with her about who’s ruder; you just want to tell her to stop the behavior … and you want to do so in a way that’s unimpeachable to anyone who might overhear it. So, calm, polite, and matter of fact.
And from here on out, consider her some sort of odd creature who you may observe with anthropological interest but should not get too close to, as she is bitey.