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How to handle a rude dude

As a medical office manager, you interact with a lot of people. There are staffers, contract workers, patients, sales reps, clinicians, and physicians, as well as service technicians, building and maintenance workers, and others.

Given that you are in contact with so many people, you are bound to come across a type of person that, unfortunately, is common to the human species: the rude dude.

Recognizing the dude

This person may have characteristics of the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. He may look friendly, and even initially talk the polite talk. Indeed, the rude dude often comes across as a nice guy—at first.

Somewhere along the line, though, a shift occurs and zap, you are stung by a remark or a series of what can only be called nasty comments.

If you haven’t encountered a rude dude, count yourself lucky. Truth be told, too many of them walk among us.

And here’s the thing. They hold jobs you’d least expect.

Take sales, for instance. A salesperson, at least a good one, is usually friendly, accommodating, and even jovial.

A physician, meanwhile, is ideally supportive, concerned, and pleasant to patients.

Yet both of these descriptions play to stereotypes rather than reality. Most people can cite at least one experience where a physician’s so-called bedside manner was lacking. As for the perfect salesperson, well, anyone with experience in purchasing will tell you that not every rep fits the mold.

So what do you do when you encounter rude behavior as you happily go about your job?

Assessing the situation

Much will depend on the degree of rudeness, and how it affects the practice. It also depends on who wears the “rude dude” label.

However, if it constitutes harassment, it must be addressed immediately, no matter who the rude dude is. And yes, this includes practice physicians.

Assuming it isn’t harassment and “just” rudeness, you will want to assess the situation and decide if action is warranted.

For example, if a maintenance worker who shows up annually to check the heating system is rude, you may want to shrug it off, knowing that he and his attitude will soon be gone. Likewise with the brilliant techie who occasionally services the practice’s computer system.

On the other hand, if a staffer, particularly one who interacts with patients, is rude, you should not ignore the behavior. Similarly, if a physician is rude to staff and/or patients, you have an obligation to let the doc know how her behavior impacts the practice.

Responding to rudeness

It’s important to recognize the difference between a one-time slight and chronic rudeness.

A person may be having a bad day and inadvertently take out her frustration on others. If this becomes a pattern, it’s a problem. A one-time occurrence doesn’t a rude dude make, and the behavior doesn’t warrant action, unless it was particularly egregious.

A rude dude, by contrast, acts as if he is entitled to treat others however he chooses. If this person is a staffer, you must counsel him on the importance of teamwork and getting along with others. It sounds elementary, but some people don’t get it.

When speaking with the staffer, be sure to give examples of rude behavior and point out the effect it has. When talking to him, don’t be condescending but make sure you’re clear. Also let him know what’s expected in terms of workplace and patient interaction.

A conversation with a physician, admittedly, is more difficult. You might take the approach that you are interested in improving workplace morale and have found the best way to do this is to model positive behavior, which happens to be true.

Here’s the thing about rudeness: like other forms of negativity, it’s contagious. But, unlike contagion where behavior tends to be overt, contagion associated with rudeness is subtle.

In fact, encountering rude behavior at work makes people more likely to perceive rudeness in later interactions, a University of Florida study shows.

“When you experience rudeness, it makes rudeness more noticeable,” says lead author Trevor Foulk, a doctoral student in management at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business Administration. “You’ll see more rudeness even if it’s not there.” 

The study findings, published in the Applied Journal of Psychology, also provide the first evidence that impoliteness spreads in the workplace. Those who experience rudeness firsthand are more likely to spread it to others, research shows.

“Part of the problem is that we are generally tolerant of these behaviors, but they’re actually really harmful,” Foulk says. “Rudeness has an incredibly powerful negative effect on the workplace.”

And he offers advice for managers: “It isn’t something you can just turn your back on. It matters.”

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