Rudeness Is As Rudeness Does

05/01/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Stanley Bing Fortune columnist and best-selling author of business books

Have you ever noticed that the rudest people are often the most touchy about any slight to THEM?

This is an executive trait, of course. People who feel particularly comfortable yelling at others, but whose feelings are incredibly sensitive to any kind of slight. I once knew a guy who routinely screamed his head off at the slightest provocation. The entire corporation tiptoed around his temper. One day one of his lieutenants flew into Chicago from Denver for a meeting and was greeted with a faceful of noise from the big cheese.

Tired, jet-lagged, upset at being gored so early in his visit and without even the faux-polite preamble often afforded visiting dignitaries, the sub-executive exploded at the boss. The content of his diatribe is unimportant. He just blew a gasket, got red in the face, and expelled fumes at his vast and powerful superior. Then he left and went back to his visiting office, fully expecting to be decapitated.

He was not. In fact, he was never punished. For the rest of the day, the CEO was very quiet in his corner space, which was roughly the size of Soldier Field. Every now and then he would call an associate and, in a hurt tone of voice, say, "Barry yelled at me." When asked what the heck he was talking about, he would simply reaffirm, in a voice as tender as a grass-fed steer, "Barry yelled at me. I brought up the current performance of his division and he completely went off on me. I'm the CEO. And he yelled at me." Those who received such calls claim there was even a bubble of tears behind the boss's quiet and injured tone. But that seems impossible. CEOs don't cry, do they?

I bring all this up in order to relate a brief anecdote that occurred to me personally yesterday evening, one that made me consider this issue in light of my ongoing study of executive malfeasance, obnoxiousness and dementia.

I was at the fish counter of my local supermarket. There was a long line and nobody was being served. The line grew. The fish guy was busy, his back to us, deboning a plank of salmon. Finally, he finished his job, turned to all of us, and began serving each, one by one. As he was about to wrap my order, a woman with wild hair came up beside me, saw what was going on, and screamed at him in a shrill peal that cut through the quiet store like a buzzsaw: "What are you doing? Where is my order!?"

"I was deboning it and now all I have to do is wrap it up," said the fish guy.

"You're serving other people!" she yelled, impervious to the curious gazes of all of the "other people" who were now looking at her with amazement and something approaching fear. Madness in others is scary. "You haven't completed my order and YOU ARE SERVING OTHER PEOPLE! Stop!"

"Okay, okay," said the pescatorial server. "I'm sorry."

"I have places to go! I have things to do! I can't wait here all day!" Interesting, I thought. The fact that she was getting her way wasn't appeasing her at all. "Serving other people before my order was done!" she continued. I could feel her red face behind me, even though I wasn't turning to look at her. "I just think that's SO RUDE! You owe me some kind of APOLOGY!"

"Sorry, lady," said the fish guy.

We "other people" just looked at each other. Nobody said anything. The woman got her fish and, without a word of thanks, left. An air of calm and relief settled over us.

"Who's next?" said the guy.

"I believe you were about to wrap that salmon," I said. "But take your time."


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