The Ultimate Response To Someone's Rude Behavior Toward You

As much as it might be difficult to admit, rude people are everywhere. Even our friends and family can be rude to us and when it happens, it stings. All you need is one person to be rude and others will follow suit because, as a 2016 study published in Applied Psychology found, rudeness is contagious. 

But just because you might find yourself in a room full of negative nellies throwing around uncomfortable encounters, that doesn't mean you have to be rude too. Instead, you can counter that rudeness with three simple, effective words posed as a question: "Are you okay?" According to etiquette expert Sara Jane Ho, asking someone this shows that what was said to you was out of bounds and, basically, not cool at all. "I'm not being offensive back," Ho told CNBC Make It. "I'm coming from a place of care and that is usually to put the other person in check." These three little words can make the rude person re-evaluate their bad behavior because it's hard to carry on being negative when you've been confronted with care.

Although this is definitely the ultimate response to rudeness, it doesn't mean it's appropriate to use at all times. There are situations that call for it and situations where you should use another technique instead. It's all about how close you are to the rude person in question and the setting you're in.

Why these three words work

Because you're coming from a place of concern, asking "Are you okay?" gives you back your control. You've been spoken rudely to and now you're going to take the high road, unlike the person who made the comment. It's also hard to bounce back after a question has been posed that levels the playing field, because it can make the commenter feel foolish. "You can respond with a question of your own that highlights the absurdity or tactlessness of their words," licensed marriage and family therapist Saba Harouni Lurie told PsychCentral. "In doing so, you might also just prompt them to consider their intention and the harm caused, even if their intention wasn't to cause harm."

While many of us are well aware when we're being rude, some people are completely clueless as to the impact of the words. Asking "Are you okay?" can shift the tone and give the commenter a chance to wise up and hopefully think before they speak going forward.

When to use it

It may not be debatable that "Are you okay?" is pure brilliance when responding to a rude comment, but it doesn't mean it should be invoked every time you find yourself on the receiving end of rudeness. Instead, you want to only use it with people you're close to and with whom you have a strong relationship. In professional settings, for example, it's best to say nothing at all.

"Oftentimes, I feel like when people are being rude the best thing is to just not say anything," etiquette expert Sara Jane Ho told CNBC Make It. "Let everyone wallow, and let them wallow in their misbehavior. The greatest power is showing that the other person doesn't have power over you." While it might seem counter-intuitive to ignore your conflict resolution skills, sometimes keeping your lips sealed and walking away gives you the upper hand. There's no sense in saying something that could escalate the issue when you're in the workplace, especially since professionalism is so paramount there.

You will run into a lot of rude people in your life. Why? Because according to 2022 research by incivility expert and Georgetown University management professor Christine Porath, people are ruder now more than ever. Of course, not everyone has devolved into letting disrespect triumph over kindness, but there are enough rude people in the world that knowing how to handle them will make your life easier.