Dealing With Stupidity, Rudeness And Badmouthing

If you speak with tact, you have much less to retract.

Sometimes it’s difficult to keep your mouth shut. You just want to scream — or just give the other person a piece of your mind.

Sometimes you’re just plain fed up with all the STUPIDITY, RUDENESS, and BADMOUTHING that you see and hear at work or even at home. You want to speak out and correct things.

I understand. STUPIDITY is all too common in some workplaces, and it is hazardous to your health. Dr. Dagmar Anderson, of the Swedish Lindberg University Medical Centre, studied 500 heart attack patients and was puzzled to find 62% of them had very few physical risk factors commonly blamed for heart attacks.

However, almost all of them said they worked with “stupid” people that drove them crazy. And almost all of them had their heart attacks less than 12 hours after confronting one of these “stupid” people.

One woman, for example, had to be rushed to the hospital after her assistant shredded important company tax documents instead of copying them. Another man collapsed at his desk because the woman in the next cubicle kept asking him for correction fluid for her computer monitor.

Dr. Anderson says, “Most people have very poor coping skills when it comes to stupidity. They feel there’s nothing they can do about it, so they just internalize their frustration until they finally explode.”

Stupid coworkers can also double or triple your workload. “Many of our subjects,” Dr. Anderson went on to say, “feel sorry for the drooling idiots they work with, so they try to cover for them by fixing their mistakes.” One poor woman spent a week rebuilding client records because another coworker put them all in the “recycle bin” of her computer and then emptied it. She thought it meant the records would be recycled and used again.

The fact is stress is one of the top causes of heart attacks. And working with stupid people on a daily basis is one of the deadliest forms of stress.

The RUDENESS of others can also get to you. In a January 2003 telephone survey conducted by the research group, Public Agenda, 79% of 2013 adults said a lack of courtesy and respect was a serious problem in the U.S. And 61% said it has gotten worse in recent years.

Such rudeness even spilled over into the world of customer service. In fact poor service has become so rampant that almost half of those surveyed said they had walked out of a store in the past year because of rudeness.

They wanted to scream, to give someone a good “talking to,” but they didn’t know how to respond to rudeness. Thirty-six percent thought the best response to rudeness was being extra polite. Twenty percent said it would be best to point out the bad behavior, and 42% said it was best to simply walk away.

I know that’s how I felt while touring an old but elegant mansion in Sweden. I was amazed by the beauty and the craftsmanship on display, the wonderful accomplishment of the Swedes hundreds of years ago.

The tour guide happened to know that one of the Americans in the group was an antique collector, so she turned and asked, “Wouldn’t you love to take some of these things with you?” The man snapped, “There isn’t a thing in this whole country I want.” How rude could he be? I wanted to put him in his place.

Of course that would have brought me down to his level. And it wouldn’t have fixed anything.

There are two types of people in the world — back scratchers and shin kickers. The antique collector was a shin kicker. If I had kicked him back, I would have been just as rude as he was. I strive to be a back scratcher whenever possible.

So there’s stupidity and rudeness. And to make matters worse, there’s way too much BADMOUTHING going on. In other words, people publicly trash their coworkers and companies — even their family members.

I spoke to the Minnesota Hospital Association a while ago, and I thought one of their leaders, Bruce Rueben, said it extremely well. He said, “The hospital staff is the biggest PR group that any hospital has. If your staff is unhappy, everybody knows.”

I would say that’s true in all organizations. If the staff is badmouthing your organization, how can you expect the customers to say good things about you?

I experienced that a while ago with an airline known for lots of labor unrest. After we landed at LAX, we sat on the tarmac for a good hour waiting for someone to tow us up to the gate.

Of course the people were eager to get off the plane, and they were restless. They had other planes to catch and people to meet. But the pilot got on the P.A. system and told us — honest to God told us — “Don’t complain to me about sitting out here on the runway. Tell the company president. He may listen to you, but he won’t listen to us pilots.”

His one comment destroyed a few million dollars of airline advertising. We no longer believed the ads we saw on TV, the ads that told us how much that particular airline cared about its customers.

When I hear people badmouthing their companies, I want to tell them to shut up. They shouldn’t be telling me. They should be working it out with their coworkers and bosses back on the job.

The same is true on the home front. Kate Henderson talked about the advice her mother gave her the night before her wedding. Her mother said, regarding husbands, “Always stick up for him. Don’t discuss important matters before dinner, and lastly, never tell me about your arguments.”

Kate asked, “Why shouldn’t I tell you about our arguments?”

Her mother said solemnly, “Because you may forgive him, but I never will.”

That’s the danger of badmouthing. It puts up a block to future cooperation.

I enjoy humor as much as the next person, maybe more. If you’ve been to my programs, you know I use a lot of humor to make my points.

But so much of the humor today seems to be based on badmouthing somebody else. You have to be careful. You have to make sure the recipient of your humor knows you’re teasing, that you’re just trying to lighten the atmosphere. You’re not trying to “get” the recipient.

That’s why I enjoyed the story shared by Becky, my truly wonderful mother-in-law.

She said the relatives gathered in the hospital waiting room while one of their loved ones was gravely ill. Finally the doctor came in, looking tired and somber. He said, “I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. The only hope your loved one has at this time is a brain transplant.”

The doctor went on to say, “It’s an experimental procedure, semi-risky, and you will have to pay for the brain yourself. It’s not covered by insurance.”

The family members sat silently as they absorbed the news. After a great length of time, someone asked, “How much does a brain cost?”

The doctor quickly responded, “$5,000 for a male brain and $2000 for a female brain.”

The moment turned awkward. Men in the room tried not to smile, avoiding eye contact with the women, while other men actually smirked.

A man, unable to control his curiosity, blurted out the question everyone wanted to ask. He asked, “Why does the male brain cost so much more?”

The doctor smiled at the childish innocence portrayed by the question. He replied, “It’s just a standard pricing procedure. We have to mark down the price of the female brains — because they’ve been used.”

One of my specialties is creating positive work environments. I give people the tools to remove negative influences at work. In fact, you should have me come to your organization to deliver my program “Staying Up in a Down World: 8 Keys To A Positive Work Environment.” It has changed many organizations for the better.

Next week I’ll give you some tips on how to deal with the STUPIDITY, RUDENESS, and BADMOUTHING that occurs in some work places. Make sure you look for that issue.

Action:  Which of the three behaviors bugs you the most — STUPIDITY, RUDENESS, or BADMOUTHING? Rank order them.

Take the behavior you find most irritating. Write down how you typically respond to such behavior. Then write down how you would ideally like to respond. Once you’ve thought out and written out your ideal behavior, chances are you’ll do more of it.