Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Who Should Confront Discourteous Behavior in the Workplace?

ducks-fighting1When an employee is rude and unpleasant to a coworker, who should confront  it–the coworker or the manager?

The answer to that question can be found through a few other questions:

1. Does the coworker lack the authority to require different behavior?

2. Has this employee acted discourteously before? 

3. Is there a chance the rude employee might do similar things to other coworkers at another time?

4. Might the behavior affect the willingness of others to want to work with that employee or ask for assistance in the future?

5. If the employee used a similar tone or acted in a similar way with clients, would that be a problem?

If the answer to any of those is “Yes”, the manager should investigate. If the behavior was inappropriate the employee should be told so, why it was inappropriate, and what should have happened instead.  Then, the manager should ask for a commitment from the employee to act differently in the future.  There probably is a need for longer-term observation and development about effective behavior.

You or someone you know? You may know supervisors who push coworker disputes back onto the employees. They probably justify their actions by saying that employees need to learn to deal with their own conflicts.  The problem with that approach is, some employees do not have the confidence or skill to deal with personal conflicts effectively. So, while one employee may stand up and stop the rude behavior, others are distracted and upset and avoid working around the rude person.  Even employees who are willing to confront the behavior may do so by responding in a similar manner, which makes things miserable for everyone–and doesn’t keep the behavior from happening again.

Think about this as well: If an employee can’t be trusted to be consistently courteous and helpful to team members, how can they be trusted to be courteous and helpful to those outside your team?

Fulfill your role as a supervisor, manager and leader:  If you become aware of rude, discourteous, unpleasant, insensitive, or inappropriate behavior in your workplace, use it as a chance to develop people and the team. Talk to the employee who acted unpleasantly and find out what was behind the behavior. Make sure the employee knows it can’t happen again and knows what he or she should do instead. Then, bring the team back together by keeping them focused on work and by commending the good work that is being done.

You will find much less bickering and upset when everyone knows you expect people to behave courteously, professionally and in a way that encourages cooperation and effectiveness–and that you will deal with it immediately if you become aware of a problem.

A bonus question to add to the five above:

6. Who is ultimately responsible for the effectiveness and well-being of the workplace–employees or the manager?

April 9th, 2009 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Supervision and Management | 6 comments


  1. This was very timely for me, since I was wondering what to do about something that happened this morning. I know now what I’m going to do, thanks to your information. Bonus question number six was the deciding factor, but all of it was good. Thanks!

    Comment by Kristen Marker | April 9, 2009

  2. Well said.
    By the way, the snow is melting in Wyoming, so we’ll expect to see you soon.

    Comment by Wiseacre | April 9, 2009

  3. In our business managers know that complaints by employees will be investigated and that conflict will be mediated at the managerial level first, then using other resources. My friend did the thing you mention, he told the employees that his policy was to let them work things out on their own. But, the one coworker was so intimidated by the coworker that she just tolerated worse and worse behavior.

    She came to us (HR) to quit and that’s when we found out how many times she had asked for help with a problem coworker. Then, we found out four others had gone to the manager too, and he always told them to work it out on their own. Turned out the school yard bully was running the place!

    My friend’s manager–a high level person–called for a complete investigation and I was asked to prepare a report about what manager’s were supposed to do with complaints. After all of that, my friend lost his job and the employee was told to change his behavior or else he would be fired too. He ended up quitting, I think because he felt humiliated that everyone knew he’d been talked to.

    The happy ending is that the woman who came to us to quit feels vindicated and she is doing well and is happy in her work.

    Sorry for the long story. But it points out the validity of what you’re saying here. In most businessees it IS the responsiblity of the boss, not the employee, to deal with problems.

    And, by the way, I liked the photo!

    Comment by HR | April 10, 2009

  4. This is so true! Since our manager started handling issues like this right away, instead of leaving to employees (and she’s reading this, so its ok for me to say it) things have been so much better its unbelievable. Thanks for your information and ideas. Denise

    Comment by denisek | April 12, 2009

  5. Happy Easter, Tina! This is usually a slower day for us than any other holiday, so as you can tell, we were reading the last few posts. If you’d rather we use email instead of the comments, let us know. This is convenient. 🙂

    About discourteous employees…I thought I was doing right to stay out of conflicts between employees, but you and Bob A. gave me some other ideas, and I’ve been a lot happier with the new way. Nothing bad came out of it and a lot of good did, including not having the problem employee anymore and having people wanting to work things out on their own, which they never did before when I hoped they would! Thanks again! Phyllis

    Comment by P.A.H. | April 12, 2009

  6. Tina says:
    Thanks to everyone for their comments.

    Kristen, I’ve emailed you and am very glad things are working out well.

    Wiseacre: When the snow on I-80 is gone, let me know!

    HR: Thank you very much for your perspectives about this issue! (And I liked the photo too 🙂

    Denise and Phyllis: Use this format, because it gives me comments to include, and I like that! I appreciate your thoughts, because I’ve been able to watch the changes over a relatively short amount of time.

    Thanks again to all of you for reading and commenting! T.

    Comment by TLR | April 12, 2009

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