Exploring the Rudeness Matrix

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Rude behavior is the enemy of good customer service. It hurts interactions with both external customers and internal customers: your co-workers. Research tells us that almost half of the people surveyed have walked out of a business or otherwise stopped a purchase that was in progress all because of rude customer service. Billions of dollars are sent to the competition that way. And then there’s the poor image that rudeness can create for your entire organization. Lost sales means lost profits and lost profits means lost jobs. Further, rudeness between employees has been known to escalate into violence, so the lessons to be learned here have lots of important implications. By being more aware of what is perceived as rude behavior, we can avoid committing these offenses. What are some of the other words describing rude behavior?

  • Uncouth
  • Ill-mannered
  • Discourteous

Not exactly real complimentary, right? As we categorize some of the types of rudeness, let’s keep in mind that for our purpose, rudeness is measured in the eyes of the offended party. It’s truly a matter of perception. Not yours, but the other person’s. There are thousands of every day occurrences that people perceive as rude. It’s a big topic, but here’s how we’re going to help organize it. We’re using a matrix, which is a mold or a form, to help us better classify and clarify categories of rudeness. We’ll divide the matrix into four quadrants. The first two quadrants deal with accidental rudeness. TWO TYPES OF UNINTENTIONAL RUDENESS Telephone Doctor Customer Service Rudeness Matrix Quadrant 1 Accidental Rudeness by Omission Let’s start with accidental rudeness. Specifically, unintentional rudeness caused by something we didn’t do but should have. Of all the types of rudeness you’re going to see today, this is among the most innocent. Example 1 of Accidental Rudeness by Omission Set the Scene: Joe’s office Cara: Hi, Joe. Joe: Hi, Cara. What’s up? Cara: We missed you last night at Ann’s retirement party. Joe: Man, I totally forgot to RSVP. I’ve been meaning all week to tell Mr. Anderson I couldn’t make it because I had to go to my niece’s birthday party. Ouch!

  • Bottom Line: Joe not sending an RSVP was accidental rudeness by omission: inadvertent rudeness caused by something he didn’t do.

Example 2 of Accidental Rudeness by Omission Set the Scene: An office corridor Mariah [rounds the corner and greets her co-worker at the office]: Hi, JD! [JD, looking at his cell phone, walks by without responding. Mariah looks embarrassed and bewildered.]

  • Bottom Line: Mariah felt ignored and offended by Joe’s non-response.Again, it’s accidental rudeness caused by a lack of action. But even accidental rudeness can be serious—especially if a customer is the recipient. People are social creatures, and mistreating them even accidentally can have huge psychological effects.

We’ve now finished with Quadrant 1 and move on to our second category of rudeness. Telephone Doctor Customer Service Rudeness Matrix Quadrant 2 Accidental Rudeness by Commission By that we mean unintentional rudeness caused by something you did. You didn’t mean to offend anyone, but offend them you did. It’s the perception of the other person as to whether a statement or action is rude. The other person is the sole judge and jury.   Example 1 of Accidental Rudeness by Commission Set the Scene: A minister speaking at a small memorial service Minister: Friends, we are gathered here today not to mourn the death but to celebrate the life of Russell Terrance Oglethorpe. As you all know, Russell was—[Eulogy is interrupted by the disturbingly harsh cell phone ringtone of Joe, who is in attendance, and who proceeds to check the caller ID and take the call in the middle of the service!]

  • Bottom Line: We’ve all witnessed something like that. Joe was inadvertently rude by something he did. In this case, by his cell phone ringing at an inappropriate time. Joe didn’t intend to be disruptive, but unintentional rudeness is still rudeness.

Example 2 of Accidental Rudeness by Commission Set the Scene: A manager (standing) and accountant (seated) in a conference room Manager: [extended coughing] I’m sorry [loudly and repeatedly clearing his throat] Okay, so, if you could just go ahead and run those numbers again, with the overages, we should be —[stops to blow nose.] Accountant: Sure will, and, wow, it sounds like you have a really bad cold coming on. Manager: Every year, right around this time I get this congestion. It’s just terrible. [third person, Mr. Anderson, enters the conference room] Accountant: Hi, Mr. Anderson! Mr. Anderson: Hi, how are you doing? Manager: [covers a sneeze with his right hand and then extends it to Mr. Anderson in greeting] Hi, Mr. Anderson. Mr. Anderson: [declines the offer to shake the manager’s germy hand with a look of mild disgust and turns to speak to the accountant] There’s a conference call at 2 o’clock this afternoon … [Manager walks away sneezing and coughing as Mr. Anderson and accountant exchange looks of awkwardness and distress.]

  • Bottom Line: The Manager meant to be friendly by reaching out to shake Mr. Anderson’s hand but offering a germy hand into which everyone saw you sneeze isn’t very friendly and actually is rude.

We’re now finished with Quadrant 2. The next two quadrants deal with intentional rudeness. No more accidental. These are rude actions that are purposeful. Some of the consequences are having good employees quit a job because of rude co-workers. In other cases people have missed work days just to avoid the stress. Over half the workers surveyed felt that their efficiency and productivity have been negatively affected by incivility in the work place. TWO TYPES OF INTENTIONAL RUDENESS Telephone Doctor Customer Service Rudeness Matrix Quadrant 3 Intentional Rudeness by Omission This next scene is all too common. See if you recognize it. Example Intentional Rudeness by Omission Set the Scene: Joe and Mariah seated in Joe’s office Joe: Hey, Mariah, hold on just a minute. I need to listen to this voice mail message. [Joe plays the voice mail while he and Mariah listen.] Mariah: Wow. That customer sounded really upset. Do you need time to call him back? Joe: No, no. He’s already called and left several messages. I know exactly what he’s going to ask me. We just don’t have the inventory that he needs. I’m not calling him back. He’ll get the idea.

  • Bottom Line: How many times have you left a voice mail or sent an e-mail for someone and didn’t get a response? This kind of passivity is rude! All customers deserve the courtesy of a response. Further, if your lack of action is perceived as rude by a customer, you need to take responsibility for your actions and focus on solving the issue.

Now let’s move on to our last category of rudeness. Telephone Doctor Customer Service Rudeness Matrix Quadrant 4 Intentional Rudeness by Commission This is the classic case of someone being rude on purpose. Now why would someone do that? Perhaps in anger, to get back at someone. Sometimes it’s done to be funny, but it is always done on purpose to send a message, and the damage that follows is usually difficult to undo. This is industrial strength rudeness. This is intentional rudeness by an action you took. Example of Intentional Rudeness by Commission Set the Scene: Joe at his desk, Cara entering his office Cara: Hey, Joe. You have a call holding. It’s Cliff Burke with Stonebridge Industries. He’s still having trouble accessing his account information on line. I don’t think he’s very computer literate. Joe: Tell me you’re kidding me. Tell me you are kidding, because we’ve been over this with him a million times. Please tell me this is a joke. Cara: I’m not joking. He’s on line 10. Joe: [tone of voice very annoyed] Hello, Mr. Burke. [sarcastically] I’m fine. [abruptly] Whaddya need? [sighing] Yeah. Uh-huh. Yeah, whatever …

  • Bottom Line: Joe was intentionally rude. Is the customer always right? The answer is “not really,” but the customer always thinks he’s right, and we need to deal courteously with that perception. Also, I don’t know about you, but one- and two-word answers drive me crazy. It’s rude, rude, rude. The person giving one-word answers is giving back the minimum, the very least possible. It’s only one or two words away from not answering at all. This is a classic example of intentional rudeness by commission—something you did.

There you have it. Examples of our various types of rudeness arranged by our quadrants. Hopefully these examples will raise your awareness help make this a more pleasant world. Less rudeness means better customer service and better interpersonal relations.


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