Posted by fxckfeelings on April 9, 2012Share This Post
One of the great mysteries in human thinking is why we think pointing out a rude person’s rude behavior will lead to improvement, instead of just elicit a (way more logical) rude response. So, instead of drawing a rude friend or co-worker’s attention to their bad-manners, decide whether your relationship, personal or professional, is worth sustaining in spite of their overbearing behavior. If it is, respond politely to whatever you think needs attention and refuse to talk about anything you think does not; you can be firm if you know what your own standards are, without having to defend or retaliate. If it’s not worth it, then feel free to sever ties (politely and with the utmost tact).
I have a long time friend who has OCD about feet and cleanliness. Her OCD is so bad that whenever she sees someone’s bare foot touch the ground, they have to immediately wash their feet before entering her house. She recently accused me of having smelly feet when I’m in her car wearing clean socks and boots during winter. In addition, when I got a little irritated with her accusation she said, “I’m only helping you out because someday you will meet a man and he won’t like your smelly feet.” I don’t think I have smelly feet and have not gotten complaints from former boyfriends about it, nor have my other friends or co-workers complained about smelly feet. How do I tell her she’s being rude and that her OCD is getting out of control?
Wondering how to correct a friend’s rude behavior was the topic of many letters sent to the late, great Dear Abby. That said, I’m not sure she would like my answer.
Back in those days, calling friends and family on their rude behavior was the way civilized people policed the quality of social civility, like telling kids on the bus to give up their seat to an elderly person and expecting they would bow to public judgment (and not give you the finger).
The trouble is, unsolicited advice, no matter how tactful and well intentioned, is often a hard sell, even when presented to adults that aren’t naturally rude. And, as anyone who’s worked in customer service can tell you, there’s no shortage of rude adults who consider rudeness to be their inalienable right.
If they were ignorant or unaware, they might respond well to criticism. In general, however, they’re not. Instead, they’re obsessed and/or oblivious, which is so much worse, because criticism either means nothing to them or triggers resentment. For some reason beyond the understanding of their aggravated parents, spouses, and co-workers, they step on toes, and it’s the toes’ fault because they’re in the way (and smelly).
If you think your friend might respond well to criticism, go ahead and try. Your goal isn’t to get through to her, however, because that may not be possible, and struggling with someone’s irrational belief is a good way to evoke their dark side.
Your goal is trying is to see if you can get through to her while making your comments as positive as possible without being provocative. You can ask her whether she’s aware that people are sensitive to being told their feet stink, particularly if they haven’t heard it from anyone else. You could suggest, with the least amount of snark possible, that she might trying breathing through her mouth if it means avoiding smelly feet and the possibly-hurtful retaliation that follows a direct comment.
Despite your efforts to give her insight, what you’ll probably discover is that she won’t see herself as having an alienate-your-friends problem or a strange-obsession problem, but a I-can’t-get-smelly-idiots-to-wash-their-feet-for-proper-hygiene problem. She won’t respond to advice she doesn’t want or seek out help she doesn’t think she needs (which makes her like 99% of the population, but still).
If you want to stay friends in spite of the aggravation, learn to grin and breathe through your nose while you wash your feet. Don’t try to protect her from herself or share your feelings. Take pride in your ability to tolerate the stinky part of your relationship better than she can tolerate your allegedly stinky feet.
If your relationship isn’t worth the trouble, tell your feet you don’t care if they smell bad, you just want them to carry you away from someone who doesn’t appreciate them. Signed, not-Abby.
“My friend’s obsessive foot-focus is annoying and worrisome, but I know I can’t change her and I’m happy with my feet, so I’ll focus on what works unless it doesn’t, and then these boots, etc.”
I’m a wedding planner and I love the work and most of my clients, but there are always one or two that drive me crazy. They’re the ones that expect everything for nothing and cross-examine me about every decision I make. Weirdly, some of them are filthy rich and you’d think they could afford not to push me so hard, but they’re the worst. Recently, after we arranged an in-home tasting for the wedding feast of the daughter of a Wall Street mogul, the mother asked me what I was going to do about the new stain on her rug, which may or may not have been caused by a wine glass that was knocked over by me or one of my staff. My instinct was to apologize and offer to pay for cleaning the carpet, but I have the feeling that it’s never enough (or that the stain is in any way my fault). My goal is to make things right for my clients, but I know that the more apologetic I am, the more critical this woman gets.
When you’re in the business of feeding people’s fantasies (which certainly applies to therapists, as well), you’ve always got to balance your responsibility for making clients happy with the fact that compromises need to be made. The more they want and expect, the more difficult it is to face the cost (particularly yours) and the amount of time and trouble it takes for you to put your production together.
Maybe that’s what defines great wealth; the illusion that no compromise will be necessary, when in fact, compromises are always necessary, because people have an amazing ability to imagine more than they can possible have.
Indeed, one reason Christ thought the 1 percent would be underrepresented in heaven is that over-stimulated expectations turn rich people into nasty, disappointed bullies. Where He stood on Peeps is not clear.
Your dedication to client satisfaction is a great strength, but it’s also a big weakness if you put your need to wow them ahead of your own standards. Your goal isn’t to make them happy, just to make them as happy as possible while providing good service at a good price. Knowing that you’ve met your own standards is your best defense when they get nasty.
So, giving your client the benefit of the doubt, investigate the rug problem by asking her directly why she thinks you’re responsible. Apologize if and only if you think it’s appropriate, and only for the stain. Then return to the topic of wedding arrangements.
If she likes your plan, you’re delighted to go ahead. If not, and she doesn’t seem to have confidence in your work, you’re ready to pass her on to another professional.
Either she gives you a basic vote of confidence and accepts your rug response, or you fire yourself and take your services elsewhere.
“I hate to see unhappy clients and my instinct is always to try harder, but I’ve done this work for a long time, I know when I’ve done it well, and I know when a client’s unhappiness has nothing to do with my failings. If I haven’t done a good job, I will apologize and try harder. If I’ve met my standards, I will stand by my work and ignore dissatisfaction unless it makes respectful collaboration impossible.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname