Blog Post

Rudeness Reveals Character

By: Ken Embley

I have a difficult time dealing with rude people.  Moreover, when I find myself being rude, usually in the form of a sarcastic remark, I eventually retreat, feel guilty as heck, and resolve to correct that flaw in my character.

I was doing some web-surfing the other day and came upon an old April 14, 2006 USA Today Business Section, and the cover story was “CEOs vouch for Waiter Rule: Watch how people treat staff, rudeness to service workers reveals a lot about character.”  The point of the article is to watch out for people who have a situational value system, who can turn the charm on and off depending on the perceived status of the person they are interacting with.  Be especially wary of those who are rude to people perceived to be in subordinate roles.

The person who first thought of the waiter rule is Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson who wrote a booklet of 33 short leadership observations called Swanson’s Unwritten Rules of Management.  Among those 33 rules is only one that Swanson says never fails, and of course, that one rule is the waiter rule:

“A person, who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person.”

For some reason, we, meaning many of us, find it acceptable to be rude and fail to recognize that this rudeness points directly to our own character flaws, flaws that may make it difficult to succeed as a manager or as a leader.

Ah, but you say, I am not a rude person.  Well, maybe or maybe not.  Do any of the following waiter rule situations apply?

  • You are at a youth baseball game and the umpire calls “strike three” and you hear a parent yell, “Come-on Blue—that’s a terrible call!” The person yelling seems satisfied with their powers of observation and pronouncements.
  • You are at a retail outlet waiting in line with other patrons. A new checkout station opens and someone shouts “Break’s over—it’s about time!”