Responding to a rude and difficult person over the telephone has unique challenges. Both parties have only words, volume and intonation to go by, where in face-to-face communication both parties also have the ability to observe the other person's body language. As difficult as it can be to deal with a rude person on the telephone, there are ways to handle that person's difficult behavior.
Don't Take It Personally
It's natural to feel hurt when someone is rude to you on the phone. However, don't take it personally. You don't know what is driving the person's rudeness. Focus on the facts without reading anything else into the conversation. Remember, you probably don't know all the circumstances behind the offensive behavior.
Offensive behavior doesn't have to be reciprocated. While the other person's anger can cause you to become angry, responding in kind will only escalate rudeness. Make it a goal that the rude party will only hear gentleness and kindness from you. You need to set the tone of the conversation through words, intonation and a soft volume.
Calm, Cool and Collected
Rudeness often leads to fractured conversations. Focus on staying calm and detached, offering unemotional factual solutions. Be a good listener. Let the other person vent, but then focus the conversation by reminding him that it's your turn to speak, and then only stick to the facts. Try a gentle, kind tone when you remind him the conversation is a two-way street.
You Are Not the Only One
Don't let that person's rudeness control your behavior. You probably think you're the sole target of the other party's rudeness, but keep in mind, it's unlikely you're the only victim. Ignore the rudeness, and focus on the reason for the call, supplying the needed information.
You Can Only Control You
You're not responsible for the other person's behavior. You can't change her, so don't try. Hopefully, she will feel embarrassed over her offensive behavior, but you should end the conversation feeling satisfied with your professionalism.
There Are Limits
Rudeness has its limits. When all other approaches have failed, you might need to confront the other person about his offensive behavior, but do it in a calm, nonjudgmental manner. For instance, you might point out that things seem to be getting emotional and would it be better to call back, or ask if there's something else troubling him. If things continue to escalate, don't hesitate to tell him that you must hang up now. While it's appropriate to confront the other party, it's often better to point out that you've covered what there is to cover and you must move on. Always respect the other party's dignity, no matter the rudeness.
Don't Be Afraid to Report
Occasionally, rudeness can be a sign of serious behavior problems. If needed, don't be afraid to tell your boss or to call the police. Your first job is to protect yourself, but don't make threats about what you're going to do. In a work environment, the protocol might be to inform the caller that you must report her behavior, but that's probably not wise if you're alone. Instead, just quietly make the report.
Take a Break
Difficult situations are emotionally and mentally exhausting. Don't feel bad that you need a break to regain your energy and focus. If you are on the job, a quality work environment should include an operating procedure that allows for time-out breaks whenever possible.
- Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images