05/25/2016 10:23 EDT | Updated 05/26/2017 05:12 EDT

Rude Or Not Rude? That Is The Question

Here's the deal: we can't make everybody happy. Sometimes conversations we need to have will make other people unhappy. Sometimes we will not be able to make them feel heard in the time allotted.

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Korean businesswoman refusing to speak to co-worker

This week, I was speaking to someone who had seen me speak on conflict styles and called saying she needed my services. Let's call her Alice. She was telling me about (let's call her) Cindy, whom she managed and was causing a lot of problems in the organization. Coaching someone like Cindy, who seems convinced that everyone around her is the enemy, is a very difficult thing to do. Here's what happened in one of the incidences that Alice related to me.

After calling Cindy into her office, Alice clearly described to her the behavior that prompted this corrective feedback conversation. Believe me when I say that the corrective feedback was necessary in this case.

Alice did not personally attack Cindy but told her why what she had done was inappropriate and that it must not happen again.

Needless to say, Cindy was upset. She proceeded to get defensive and argumentative and wanted to cover every single point to explain herself fully. After an hour of this, Alice needed to stop. She was now late for a meeting which she had already mentioned.

Cindy wanted to belabor the point even more. (This is a loop we commonly call "talking it to death". Many people, will fall into this trap and not know how to get out.) Cindy continued to speak even after Alice informed her that "I have to get ready for a meeting now".

At this point in our conversation, Alice told me that she then "got rude" with Cindy. I asked her to tell me what she had said or done that was rude.

Alice: "I told her to please get out of my office."

Me: "did you shout?"

Alice: "no, but she wanted to continue talking and I told her to get out of my office."

Me: "and you were late for a meeting?"

Alice: "Yes, it was stressing me. So I firmly told her to please get out of my office."

Me: "what part of that is rude?"

Alice: "she wanted to keep talking."

Okay, this is typical doormat behaviour; thinking that someone else's needs are more important than ours.

Am I entitled to my needs?

When I told Alice that she was not being rude and that it was completely appropriate to ask her to leave, her side of the conversation went temporarily dead. She seemed to have a difficult time believing me. That somehow she was supposed to make sure that Cindy was happy.

Either Alice didn't tell me the whole truth about her own behaviour or she did not feel entitled to her own needs or feelings. That setting a boundary shouldn't happen without the other person's permission.

Here's the deal: we can't make everybody happy. Sometimes conversations we need to have will make other people unhappy. Sometimes we will not be able to make them feel heard in the time allotted.

If they feel disrespected or dismissed, the problem may not be with you. It may be with them. And it is sad. But you don't have to own it. You can offer resources if you have them. But Alice needs to have boundaries while Cindy searches her solutions.

At one point, I did ask Alice if she knew if Cindy was suffering from mental health concerns that needed an evaluation. Alice's superior intervened several months ago and strongly encouraged Cindy to seek a psychologist's assistance to better master her emotions.

Alice's prism

We tend to want to judge events as good or bad and we paint the whole relationship with this event and look for another event like it which starts a snowball of behaviors. This type of black and white thinking is what trips us up.

Cindy made a mistake. Alice had to tell her. I have no idea if Cindy ever did this again but now Alice is on red alert for other such events. And she is holding her breath at having to tell Cindy.

I may never hear from Alice again. She was calling me to do a legal mediation. That's not my expertise nor do I believe it will solve the problem. A legal reprimand and mediator will only serve to calm the fire but not put it out.

From the many stories she told me, clearly, the dynamics that she described were operating at every level of this organizations management. When I asked her how long this difficult dynamic has been going on, at the beginning of the conversation she told me it had been escalating for the last year. However later in the conversation, she told me that Cindy started five years ago and that it has been a problem from day one.

Although a mediator may help, after he or she leaves, my experience is that the fire will rebuild.

Alice was not rude. That one incident is an example of a dynamic where her guilt from thinking she is rude is feeding the fire. This is clearly a problem on setting limits and boundaries with others.

Doormats are responsible for the environment that they are promoting. They like to convince themselves that they are a victim of their circumstances. I know this behavior intimately as I did it for many years. I now firmly reject this idea.

Boundary setting is my right. The day I decided that my needs have value; I can set boundaries and take control of my agenda and my immediate environment, my circumstances changed dramatically.

I didn't need to get angry. I didn't need to be rude. But I did need to learn to ask for what I want and to set appropriate boundaries. And sometimes, that means telling people to "please leave my office. I have something else to do now".

To find out more about how I can help your organization reduce conflict and have better conversations with the people who drive you crazy, check out my website.

If you want a quick and easy downloadable one sheet on the 4 simple steps on how to tell someone what you need, just click here.

I'm happy to discuss your difficult person and help the conversations get better. Let me know if you want my help.