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Ask Liz: How do I handle a rude colleague?

Ask Liz: How do I handle a rude colleague?
Dear Liz, I am finding it hard to get along with a new colleague. He is very rude, and is always swearing. Although it’s not always directed at someone in particular, and at times it’s in a jokey manner, I still find him bad-mannered and don’t believe it is appropriate behaviour for an office environment. Should I approach him directly about it or try to ignore it?

This sounds as though it is uncomfortable for you. Whilst they may find it amusing, it is not landing very well for you.

I would suggest that you have a chat with your manager to explain what is going on and the specific impact that this is having on you.

If they are not clear about how to handle such a conversation, here are some ideas - it does not need to be personal, it needs to be factual.

As a manager describe the specific behaviours that you want to address. You must communicate only on the behaviours that you observed directly.

When giving feedback on behaviour, avoid making assumptions or subjective judgments about those behaviours.

Then use "I" statements to describe how their behaviour has affected you or other people in the team. For example: "I noticed that you were swearing in the team status meeting yesterday. I was worried as 'Sally' was not comfortable with this language. I am concerned about what message this gives to the members of the team."

Then ask them to think about the situation and to understand the impact of his or her behaviour. Give them time to think about what you have said and then agree specific actions to help them change their behaviour.

As someone once said, "swearing is not clever or funny." There is a time and a place.

If you have an HR-related issue that you need answering by our expert Liz Nottingham, Starcom MediaVest Regional HR Director Western Europe, please contact her via

Any questions published will appear anonymously. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and were submitted in accordance with the IPA's terms and conditions regarding the uploading and contribution of content to the IPA's newsletters, IPA website, or other IPA media, and should not be interpreted as representing the opinion of the IPA.

Last updated 20/11/2013

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