“A few of my friends and people at work have told me that I come off as rude or disrespectful. I don’t mean to be inconsiderate. How can I stop being unintentionally rude?”
Good manners are important when you want to get along well with people and make friends. But it’s not always easy to know for sure whether you’re coming across as rude or inconsiderate. This may be for several reasons. For example, if you haven’t had much practice in social settings or find it hard to read body language, you may not realize that your behavior isn’t appropriate.
Rudeness can take many forms, but rude behaviors have one thing in common: they show a lack of respect for other people.
Examples of rude behavior include ignoring someone when they greet you, using vulgar language that makes people around you uncomfortable, and arriving late for an appointment with no explanation.
In this article, you’ll learn how to not be disrespectful and rude around others.
If someone gets the impression that your mind is somewhere else during the conversation or that you’re just waiting for your turn to speak rather than actively listening to what they are saying, you’ll come off as rude.
- When someone is talking to you, use your body language to signal interest. Lean forward slightly, nod when they make a point, and maintain eye contact.
- Ask someone to clarify something if you’re not sure what they mean, instead of just hoping that it wasn’t anything important.
- Do not look at your phone during a conversation.
- Don’t be too hasty to fill silences. Give the other person a chance to gather their thoughts.
You can find more tips in this guide to active listening.
Talking about yourself all the time makes you look self-centered and rude. Try to keep your conversations balanced. Good conversations follow a back-and-forth pattern, with both parties having the opportunity to contribute. If this is a challenge for you, our article on what to do if you talk too much about yourself could be useful.
It can also help to ask yourself, “What can I learn from this person?” When you are genuinely interested in what the other person has to say, it’s easier to think of questions to ask them. Check out our guide on how to be interested in other people if you’re not naturally curious.
Some people come off as rude not because they dominate a conversation but because they make other people do all the work. If you stick to short answers and don’t make any effort to come up with things to talk about, the burden falls on your conversation partner, which can make them feel awkward.
Everyone has the right to set boundaries in their relationships. If you ignore someone’s boundaries, other people might think you are being rude or even that you’re a bully.
- If your friend dislikes being touched, don’t try to hug them.
- If your parents don’t like to talk about politics with you, find other topics to discuss.
- If your coworker says they like to spend their coffee breaks alone, don’t try to draw them into a conversation.
If you aren’t sure whether you’re about to cross a boundary, ask. For example, if you aren’t sure whether your friend is OK with discussing their religious beliefs, you could say, “So I’m genuinely interested in what others believe, but I don’t want to overstep. Do you mind if I ask about your faith?” Whatever the answer, respect their decision.
When you don’t know someone well, it’s best to use uncontroversial humor to avoid causing offense. Avoid joking about potentially sensitive topics like religion, politics, and sex. Don’t make other people the butt of your jokes.
When you give someone a compliment, say something nice about their skills, achievement, taste, or personality rather than their appearance. Complimenting someone’s looks is generally considered inappropriate and rude if you aren’t their partner or a close friend.
Taking an interest in other people will make you a good conversationalist, but interrogating them about their personal life often comes across as rude if you haven’t known them for long.
If you aren’t sure what kind of questions are appropriate, look at this list of questions you can ask at different stages of your friendship or relationship.
Look for signs that the other person would rather talk about something else. For example, if they are giving short answers or their body language is closed off, it’s probably a good idea to change the subject.
It’s tempting to jump in with advice, but the other person might just want to vent about their troubles. Only give your opinion if they give you a cue like “What do you think?” or “What would you do in my situation?” Most people won’t like it if you tell them what to do because it implies you know more than they do about their situation.
It’s not much fun to deliver negative feedback, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Here’s how to not sound rude when giving criticism:
- Begin on a positive note: Diving straight into criticism can come across as harsh. Unless the other person has made a serious mistake, you can probably find something positive to say.
- Spell out the problem: Instead of making general remarks like “This doesn’t work” or “This needs to be redone,” be brief and specific.
- Offer some pointers to help them come up with a solution: This shows that you are genuinely invested in solving the problem, not just criticizing them for the sake of it.
- Stay mindful of your body language: Try not to fold your arms, frown, or tap your fingers impatiently.
Here’s an example of constructive criticism:
“You’ve worked hard on this report, and I appreciate it. Overall, it’s very clear. But we agreed in our last meeting that we’d add some graphs and diagrams to break up the text, and there aren’t any in here. Could you perhaps add a bar chart and two or three other visual aids?”
It’s usually easier to be polite to someone if they are nice to you in return. Staying polite when you have to deal with an annoying or disrespectful person can be very difficult. You might think, “Why should I be nice to them? They’re being rude to me!” But if you absolutely must interact with them, you need to stay civil.
Try reframing the situation. Instead of telling yourself, “I hate being polite to annoying people!” try saying, “I am a polite person who behaves appropriately in challenging social situations.” Take pride in staying calm and dignified.
It may also help to remind yourself that even if someone takes a dislike to you, staying calm and polite may impress people who really matter, such as your friends or your boss.
If you don’t thank people for the things they do for you, you may come across as rude and entitled. Say “Thank you” when someone makes your life easier.
- Thank your partner when they clean up, even when it’s “their turn”
- Acknowledge your coworkers when they help you with a project
- Say “thank you” when your friends listen to you talk about a problem
- Say “thank you” to service staff
Be particularly careful that you aren’t taking your friends and relatives for granted. It’s easy to assume that your partner, your parents, or your best friends will always want to help you out. But their patience will probably wear out eventually if you don’t show them any appreciation or repeatedly ask them for favors without giving anything back.
Even if your words are polite and friendly, your voice and body language can make you seem rude.
For example, if you naturally have a loud voice, some people may perceive you as aggressive or domineering. If you have a monotone voice, you may sound bored, which can come off as rude. You might find these guides helpful: how to fix a monotone voice and how to be more approachable.
Making an effort to follow social norms is a sign of respect. There’s no need to change your entire persona. Just bear in mind that to be seen as socially skilled, you need to adapt your behavior to suit the occasion.
When you aren’t sure how to behave, watching the people around you will usually give you some clues. For example, if you’re at a dinner party and aren’t sure which cutlery to use, watch what your neighbor is doing. Or if you’re at a friend’s party and everyone is in an upbeat mood, try to keep your energy level high.
If you’re going to a formal event and are worried that you won’t understand the unspoken social rules, check out an online etiquette guide.
Time-wasting is rude and disrespectful because it implies that you don’t think other people have anything important to do other than listen to you or help you out. Always arrive on time for meetings and social events; call or text if you’re going to be late. Do not waylay people with chatter or small talk when they need to be somewhere else or getting on with their work.
When you’re socializing as part of a group, make sure you don’t make anyone feel left out. Excluding people makes you come across as cliquey or rude.
- Don’t use a lot of in-jokes or obscure references with a friend when you’re with someone who doesn’t know what they mean.
- When you’re in a group with two people who don’t know each other, introduce them if possible. Offer some extra information to help them start a conversation. For example, “This is Robert, he works in our HR department and just moved to the area” is better than “Hey, meet Robert!”
- Keep your use of jargon or specialist terms to a minimum unless everyone knows what they mean.
- If you want to invite a few selected members of the group to another gathering, wait until everyone else has gone before making plans.
You may be more likely to come across as rude when angry or upset.
If you feel very emotional, try removing yourself from the situation for a few minutes. Say, “Excuse me, I need a few minutes to calm down. I’ll be back soon, and then we can have a discussion.” Taking some time out may reduce the risk of saying something rude that you’ll later regret.
If anger is an ongoing problem for you, try to identify unhelpful thought patterns. For example, if you believe that people should always treat you fairly, you are bound to get disappointed and angry because it’s unrealistic to expect people to be completely reasonable all the time.
The mental health charity Mind has other useful tips in their guide to managing chronic anger.
Accept that everyone has their own opinions and tastes. Trying to mold other people to fit your ideals will only harm your relationship and make you look insensitive.
You probably prefer people to give you the benefit of the doubt rather than jumping to conclusions about you. Try to give them the same courtesy. If someone disagrees with you, don’t assume that they are ignorant or stupid; it’s possible for two smart people to hold completely different points of view.
Do not be negative about things other people like. Instead, get curious and try to learn something about their interest or hobby.
For example, suppose your friend loves reading fantasy novels, but you can’t stand them. Instead of saying something dismissive like “I don’t get fantasy, it’s so boring,” you could try asking questions like, “What is it about those stories that you like?” or “What do you think makes for a great fantasy hero?”
When you try to outdo someone or brag, you are suggesting that their experiences aren’t as meaningful as yours or that you are a better, more interesting person. It’s fine to acknowledge the things you’ve done or the things you own, but only when it’s relevant to the conversation.
Feeling compelled to brag can be a sign that you feel inferior to other people, so it can help to work on your self-esteem. Our article on how to overcome an inferiority complex has more advice.
Research shows that rudeness is contagious. Try to spend more time with considerate, positive people. If you have to work or live with a rude person, be mindful of how you act when they are around. Remind yourself that even if their behavior is inappropriate, you don’t need to let it affect you.
Well-mannered people acknowledge their mistakes and make amends whenever possible. If you’ve treated someone rudely, apologize as soon as possible. A full apology includes an acknowledgment of what you did and how it made the other person feel.
“I’m sorry I interrupted you in the middle of your presentation. That was rude of me, and I know you felt annoyed.”
If someone asks you a question or invites you to take part in a discussion, it is rude to ignore them, stay silent, or give brusque answers. If you show that you are listening and give thoughtful responses, you aren’t rude, even if people ask you why you’re quiet.