You Talkin’ to ME? Is Rudeness the New Normal?

Maybe it’s the reporter in me making sure I cover all angles or the Libra in me that understands all sides to a situation and so can troubleshoot questions or problems. Or maybe it’s just the anal part of me that can’t stand incomplete information. Case in point, recently I had an interaction with someone I work with that entailed five back and forth emails to answer a simple question of “I don’t see the link on the doc. Where is it?”

(“It’s there.”
“On the doc.”
“WHERE on the doc?”)

If I need to tell someone something, I picture being the recipient and I write the way I would like to be given an answer. I anticipate questions as best I can and prepare as much information as possible to get them what they need instead of wasting time on half-thought through emails that only increase my inbox and give me more questions than answers.

What could have normally been a simple 30 second (if that) conversation, became a frustrating 20 minute email exchange. Sometimes I feel as if I’m in a version of Abbot and Costello’s famous sketch “Who’s on First” but instead of actual verbal banter, it’s being played out in email. Are people becoming lazier? Busier? More contrite with their answers on purpose or has rudeness and bitchiness finally become part of the new business etiquette?

I wish I could relegate this type of rude behavior to just email communication but I see it in road rage, and more recently, in an influx of bad behavior in face to face customer service as well. Is it urgency of anxiety-fueled drama of back-to-school? The incredulous forcing of holidays by having Halloween candy in supermarkets in August? Hey it’s already September—what do you mean the Christmas trees aren’t set up in Aisle 8 yet?

Maybe we’re moving too fast to know how to slow down anymore and that angst and high energy is being reflected in the brusqueness of communication that seems to be the new normal. Granted, some people may not realize that they come off as being terse. I’ve been accused many times of having a “tone” when I honestly didn’t realize there was one. Once it was brought to my attention, however, I heard it and changed accordingly. Sometimes it takes a calling out of someone’s behavior for this to be recognized–like I did with one of our local librarians for being rude. True story.

I called my library asking if they had a book I needed for a class that night and she said it was out but it was expected to be returned that day and she was going to call me when it came in. Click. Okay. First problem. She hung up on me. Fine. I waited a few hours as my initial call was early in the morning. I needed the book for a class that evening (I only waited until the last minute because I had just found out we actually needed that book that night—thanks Prof!).

So I was on a mission. I had no desire to purchase the book unless I had to which is why I turned to my library. The day went by with no call and so, feeling as if I had given the book borrower ample opportunity to return a due library book (a possible lunchtime trip or maybe afternoon), I called the library again on my way out of the office. My thinking was, if the book was not returned, I would make a side trip to the bookstore and just buy it. The phone was answered on the second ring and I recognized the same voice from earlier that morning.

“Hi, I called earlier today….” and before the last word was out of my mouth, she interrupted me, “I TOLD you [emphasis intentional and not exaggerated] I was going to call you.”

Oh no. She did not just talk to me that way, did she? I was so shocked that anyone, let alone a librarian was so rude that I stammered, “Oh, ok.” and hung up. And then I got angry. It was just not right. In my head I rechecked the tone of the conversation from my end, and yep, I was pleasant and courteous each time. I was not going to let this go, so I drove straight to the library and walked in.

A librarian was behind the desk shelving books from a huge cart filled with recent returns. She looked up at me and I said “Hi, I called earlier…”

“I SAID…” [again, emphasis intentional and not exaggerated]

I put up my hand and told her “STOP! Stop right there. I realize the book may not be here yet but I felt that you were so rude on the phone with me that I wanted to come here and tell you in person that I did not appreciate it.” I could see her take a step back as if I my words physically slapped her. She flustered an apology and said she did not realize that was her tone and that was not her intention but she had felt pressured all day to get some things done that needed to be by the end of the day. Now, that, I can understand. Apology accepted and I felt, point made. By the way, the book never did make it back to the library so I had to buy it anyway!

My point with this is to shed light on what I feel is a slow degeneration of communication in emails, phone calls, comment sections on online articles, and even with our cars and the way we behave on the road. There is a false sense of bravado and rudeness that has become rampant, and if there is an “anonymous” option to post a comment, those seem to be the wickedest of all. It’s easy to be rude when you don’t see the other person’s reaction and yet, even if you can see the reaction, some people continue to be discourteous.

I think we need to take more of a stand and just say STOP the next time someone is reactionary toward us. Like the librarian, and even myself sometimes, the person may not realize they have a tone. I don’t know one person who is not overworked, overwhelmed, and stressed with responsibilities and I get the fact that everyone reacts differently, but no one seems to be stopping to take a breath anymore before replying to that email or waiting for the car ahead of us to turn before responding brusquely or with hand gestures. Do people really think that responding tersely is an effective communication? Are good manners and even the hint of professionalism being leeched away by increasing deadlines and work overload? Maybe. I know I’ve perpetuated my own share of bad behavior and terse email responses, but I’d like to say that they are more the exception than the rule.

Taking it deeper.