Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


What’s the Best Way to Deal With Rude and Selfish People?

What drives rude people? Why do they attract us and how do we deal with them?

When someone is talking so loudly on their cellphone that everyone within earshot is forced to listen to their conversation, is that rude? Entitled? Self-centered?

How about the person who pulls out their phone or iPad in the middle of a dinner conversation?

What about the guy — or gal — who doesn’t think they should have to wait in line with all the rest of us poor slobs and just moves to the front?

And what about the neighbors who decide to have a party — on a weeknight — and blast their music through the neighborhood, keeping everyone else awake all night?

What is the cause of selfishness, rudeness, and entitlement? What draws us to someone with these qualities? In the politics of the day in the United States, is there a difference between rudeness and straight talk? And finally, what can you do when someone behaves rudely towards you?

First, let’s define the terms. The two defining characteristics of selfishness are:

  1. Being concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself;
  2. Having no regard for the needs or feelings of others.

Rudeness is defined as: Showing a lack of concern about and respect for the rights of others and the feelings of other people.

And entitlement is: A sense of deserving something, whether or not it rightly belongs to you.

They look a lot alike. But rudeness is also defined as “coarse,” “unrefined,” or “impolite.” Maybe this is what is so confusing to a lot of people. Donald Trump’s lack of concern with social niceties appears refreshing to some people. But to others, it looks like antagonism, hostility, crassness, and a total lack of concern for anyone else.

Entitlement, or sense that we have the right to have something, can be a healthy expectation. It is, for example, a normal part of a child’s psychological development to think that he or she is the center of the world. Sometimes called healthy narcissism or egocentrism. It is part of how a child views the world in the early stages of cognitive and emotional development.

A certain amount of entitlement is also valuable in adults. The belief that we have the right to take care of ourselves and our family, the right to be respected by others, and the right not to be hurt by them is important to psychological well-being. But the feeling that we are entitled to go to the head of the line or to be given special treatment at all times is not only not healthy, but it is not a particularly productive way to be in the world.

So what’s the appeal of someone who clearly believes that he is entitled and special, no matter the cost to anyone else?

Essentially, he is showing in his behavior and his words that it’s fine to go back to that childhood sense of selfishness and self-centeredness. In children, it’s a healthy early developmental stage.

But as we get older, we learn that we’re not the center of the universe. We learn to control our demands. We understand that not all of our needs are going to be met, and we learn how to deal with that.

Entitlement and rudeness in adults often indicate that they have failed to learn these important life lessons. It frequently impacts their ability for genuine intimacy or mature relationships, since it’s hard to be genuinely intimate with someone when there’s no mutuality or a willingness to engage in real give and take.

What attracts us to these people? The rules that we all follow, to keep life somewhat civilized, can also be restricting. Rude and entitled people seem to have decided that they don’t need to follow these rules. Often, they appear far happier and more satisfied with their lives than we feel. They don’t seem to be constricted by the morals and values that keep us in line. We want to join them or at least follow them into this freer space.

What irritates us about them? The very same thing that attracts us also irritates us. Someone who doesn’t think that the standards of behavior that apply to others also apply to them takes up more space, steps on other people’s toes, and doesn’t worry about hurting, embarrassing, or inconveniencing anyone else. When we’re on their train and they have our backs, we benefit from getting our way more often. But when we’re on the other end getting our own toes stepped on, it’s not so pleasant.

So what can you do when someone is talking too loudly on their cellphone, chewing gum in your ear, stepping in front of you in line, or otherwise rudely invading or ignoring your personal space?

1. Ignore them. Interestingly, while this is one of the most successful techniques for managing other people’s rudeness, it is also one of the least satisfying. Rude people often get a kick out of the fact that they are bothering others. They like the attention and fuss that their behavior stirs up. So ignoring them is far more likely to extinguish or stop the undesirable activity behavior than engaging in a battle with them., no matter how appealing it might seem to put them in their place.

2. Quietly request that they stop. That said, sometimes someone is doing something rude without realizing it. However, it is important to remember that sometimes people are embarrassed to be called out for doing something that they know they shouldn’t be doing. Even if they’re not doing it for the attention, they might react with anger, especially if they feel criticized. For this reason, it’s often helpful to begin any request to cease and desist with a calm and friendly comment that you are sure they don’t realize that their voice is carrying or their behavior is affecting others.

3. Choose your battles. If you really want to fight with someone over their behavior, be prepared for a loud, unpleasant argument. You may end up much more embarrassed than they will be. (See #1).

4. Get backup. If you have spoken to your noisy neighbors and politely requested that they suspend their parties after 11 p.m. on weeknights without success, you might try to find out if there is a neighborhood or community relations department at your local police station. Often having a professional, and particularly a representative of a government organization, to back you up, can be very helpful. But remember, they are not going to support you if you come across being the rude and entitled one. Similarly, if a group of neighbors organizes together to speak to one difficult neighbor, that can help.

5. Recognize what you actually can and cannot do. We can’t stop all of the rude people in the world. But we can try to maintain our own sense of what is right and wrong, despite their apparent success at ignoring the rules.

In the end, these rules and regulations are part of what keeps the world running as smoothly as it does. Yes, sometimes it is important to question the rules. It is crucial not to follow them blindly. But it’s equally important not to follow rulebreakers blindly. Because they seldom have a sense of loyalty to anyone else; and their lack of empathy can eventually come back and bite you in the butt.

Please let me know what you think, and tell me about your own experiences with rude people!

Copyright @fdbarth 2016

More from F. Diane Barth L.C.S.W.
More from Psychology Today