What you can learn from the rudest person in the room

I was at a function with my husband a few weeks ago and we met up with an industry contact who we hadn’t seen for a while - someone I had a reasonably close connection with on a past project.

He greeted my other half, Mike, like a long lost friend, and I leaned forward expectantly, poised to join the conversation.

Then this weird thing happened. The other guy squared his body to face Mike and directed the entire conversation at him, never making eye contact with me or acknowledging me in any way.

I opened my mouth numerous times to inject myself into the discussion but there was never an opportunity. He just kept talking, completely blocking me out.

At first I thought I was imagining it; after all, this person knew me and I couldn’t think of any reason why he wouldn’t make visual contact with me. Then my mind started to take over; “Do I have lettuce between my teeth and he just doesn’t want to look at me? Has he had a fight with his wife and I remind him of her? Is he just rude and ignorant?”

I couldn’t immediately answer those questions (except the lettuce one, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case) but whatever the reason, he didn’t give me the slightest acknowledgement. So there I stood, the shag on a rock, throughout the conversation.

I was pretty annoyed when I thought about it later. I’m not usually precious, but this was blatant ignorance, arrogance or something else. It got me thinking, though, about the importance of body language and how easy it is to unconsciously shut somebody out of an interaction.

You see, I don’t really believe this guy was being deliberately rude - he just had no idea what he was doing and how he was coming across. Pondering further, I wondered if I have ever been guilty of the same thing - perhaps when speaking to a large group or running a training session where it’s challenging to make everyone in the room feel included.

It’s easy to get comfortable and only focus on the people right in front of you or the ones who are nodding in agreement, while cutting out those who look disengaged and are fiddling on their phone. For all we know, they’re taking notes or have had some crisis at home and need to take messages. We can’t assume what’s going on with other people, but we can control our own behaviour.

This one person’s poor showing has been a wake up call to make sure I’m fully present when I talk to others. If I’m speaking to a group, I’m committed to going out of my way to include every person and making them feel part of the conversation. I don’t want to make anyone else feel the way I felt when that guy ignored me.

How about you? When you’re speaking to colleagues, presenting in a meeting or just having a conversation at home, see if you can consciously choose to behave in a way that makes that other person feel important, included and the focus of your attention. There’s a very good chance they’ll be more open to receiving what you have to say - and that’s a great basis for positive communication.