Pre-teaching UoP Faculty Training Assignment (2002):
A student in your class, Aggra Vating, has made a couple of borderline rude comments in the
open forum, but so far you have not confronted her about the tone and content of her notes.
When you logged on this morning, you noticed that Aggra had posted the following note as a
reply to another student in the class.
The note reads: “John, you obviously don't have much experience in this area of management.
When employees are unable to communicate with one another, it's the manager's responsibility
to lay down the law. Take my advice! Read some books on effective management before you
make any more uninformed decisions. I'm sure some of your employees already resent you, but
you may be able to repair some of the damage if you act quickly.”
As the facilitator, how would you handle this situation? Please draft the actual note(s) you would
send and indicate whether the note(s) would be sent as a private message or posted in the Main
The described scenario is a common story within any organization. A recent University of North
Carolina study surveyed 1,400 workers where 78% responded that they felt that workplace
rudeness has gotten worse in the past 10 years. The study found that rude people are three
times more likely to be in higher positions than their targets, who are just as likely to be either a
man or a woman. Men are seven times more likely to be rude or insensitive to underlings than
superiors, while women are equally rude to superiors and subordinates. The study also
suggests that people normally act according to the prevailing organizational culture. Generally,
individuals do not act out unless they see superiors doing it, or letting other people do it. Usually
rude behavior is due to an unstimulated (boring) individual feeling a lack of control under
pressure to produce, especially when working with someone with a slower tempo, in a generally
hostile environment. This paper endeavors to use an understanding of the dynamics of rude
behavior to form the foundation for a suitable response to a rude student in an online classroom
environment. Workplace bullying is generally supported with far more negative consequences
for any victim who dares to complain. British research has linked workplace ruthlessness and
bullying to between a third and half of all stress related illness (www.workingwounded.com,
Joyner at). Rudeness, thus, is a common problem that is essentially a leadership issue.
It can be useful to attempt to understand the motivations behind rudeness in trying to deal with
incidents. Repeat abusers are frequently characterized as lacking in assertive communication
skills and appearing alternatively passive or aggressive in nature. They are more inclined to
resolve problems and emotions through hostility, which tends to add to the stress level for
themselves and others around them. Emotional tensions are typically suppressed until they
finally "explode." Despite the bravado that many display, they characteristically suffer from lower
real self-worth. Common tactics include name-calling, belittling comments, and attempts to
isolate their victims.
There are several operationalized types of offenders. The reactive offender is generally
characterized by poor socialization skills, poor inhibition of impulses, rapid escalation of anger,
immaturity, and low verbalization skills and is the common subject of “anger management”
program referrals. The instrumental offender may appear more competent than the reactive, but
this strength can be very misleading. The instrumental offender is characterized as very
possessive, classically describes others in relationships as needing them, and generally finds a
high degree of congruence between controlling behavior and their world- and self-views.
Rudeness is not an impulse but a tool for control of others, and so they are not likely to exhibit
remorse. This offender often has a personality structure that is consistent with a borderline
personality disorder (BPD – who expects people to behave a certain way and explodes when
they don‟t), bi-polar (with a mood disorder of emotion swings and frequently a grandiose sense
of invincibility), or Masterson‟s concept of the “closet narcissist.” Finally, the antisocial offender
uses relationships to further other interests and does not develop such dependent attachments
as the instrumental personality. Unlike the narcissist, she/he generally is not using his violence
to dominate so much as to get his or her way – which might actually mean relieving a personal
sense of being controlled.
Understanding typical characteristics of victims can assist in what to say to them as well. Victims
characteristically blame themselves for the abuse, even to the point of accepting responsibility
for the abuser‟s behavior, feel they have no control and few alternatives, feel embarrassed
about admitting being hurt, exhibit ambivalence over the incident, put the needs and feelings of
others above their own, and experience stress reactions with psycho-physiological
complications that may include: fatigue, backaches, headaches, and an inability to sleep.
Targets of abuse are usually inexperienced in relationship building and are more naïve and
trusting. Moments of emotionally instability is often easy for a potential abuser to pick up on.
Being depressed, upset, abused, and discussing it openly, is something the repeat abuser will
look for – in other words, weaknesses. They seek people who can be controlled and
manipulated emotionally. The driven, high energy, hard working, hard playing, focused and
occupied, success oriented, and dedicated business executive is often ignorant, more often than
not, of owning such strategic vulnerabilities. In addition, both abuser and victim tend to carry
stereotypical views for relationships (men/women, employer/employee, and teacher/student).
Unlike a physical attack where the episode is normally over quickly and one can call the police
afterwards, verbal abuse goes deep in the self and festers while there is no agency to call for
help. According to a study released April 2003 by the Public Agenda and The Pew Charitable
Trusts, eight in ten Americans say a lack of respect and courtesy should be regarded as a
serious national problem.
When confronting someone for rudeness, do not condemn them or the behavior in general but
instead say, “We do not support that kind of behavior here.” As every parent knows, one must
separate the problem from the individual. For example, a student receiving an „F‟ should be
examined in terms of the whether the work is too hard, is the student under stress, does she/he
need help, tutoring, or support. A selfish response, though, sees the same problem based on
whether the student is disobedient, lazy, embarrassing, or just looking for excessive attention.
The healthy environment sees the rudeness as the problem, the dysfunctional one see the
student as the problem. Attention must be made to what is said as well as how it is said (which
will be addressed further in just a moment). One must use a positive approach to get positive
behavior. It is essential for an instructor to spend a good bit of preliminary class time talking
about ethics and the importance of interpersonal relationships as key to personal success as
well as the success of any business endeavor. The Instructor can also emphasize the
importance of a good Team Charter to promoting better group dynamics. It is always healthier to
work toward retaining and building better people than simply asking them to leave.
Basic suggested response rules…
1. No hedging and don't dilute. Never say things like:
I'm sorry to have to ask you this
I feel awful about this, but...
I wouldn't normally say anything, only...
2. Be clear and direct when confronting, but start by being neutral.
3. Use few words. God gave you two ears and one mouth because you are supposed to
listen twice as long as you speak. More importantly, you do not want to feed any potential
motivations based on a need for attention.
4. Involve. Active listening means asking questions to forge their cooperation for a solution.
5. Be positive.
6. Schedule a follow up discussion.
The ultimate goal of any defense is the gentle diffusion and reduction of tensions and
resentment in order to prevent future confrontations. Thus, it is always important not to use too
much force. A few years back, for example, a martial arts acquaintance went a little over the top
in defending himself in a bar room brawl. A few weeks later, the other person came up behind
and knifed him to death. Further, the standard macho cop yelling, “Put that knife down or I‟ll
blow your head off” virtually forces a person to attack to save face. A better method would be to
make the perpetrator an ally working for a mutual benefit with, “Hey friend, let‟s do each other a
favor. You don‟t want to spend the night downtown and I don‟t want to spend a couple of hours
doing the paperwork.” George J. Thompson is an English teacher who became a police officer
at the age of 35 who regularly teaches verbal techniques for agencies from the U.S. Forest
Service to the FBI. In fact, the four officers videotaped in the Rodney King incident were only
one week away from taking his class and Thompson believes that violence could have been
avoided had the officers spent one day in his classroom. He teaches that one of the surest ways
to end up in the hospital is by “laying down the law” with seemingly simple lines like, “Come
here!” “Because those are the rules.” “Calm down.” “What‟s your problems?” “I‟m not going to
say this again.” “I‟m doing this for your own good.” and “Why don‟t you be reasonable?” The
same is true of the ageless negotiating minuet of arguing over position. The method typically
starts with an extreme anchoring starting point that tends to lock participants into their positions
to (yet again) save face. A classic example was the breakdown in the talks for a ban on nuclear
testing. The Soviet Union finally agreed to three inspections, while the U.S. insisted on no less
than ten. The heated talks broke down at this point before anyone had even begun to discuss
what an “inspection” might involve (it turned out that the Soviet‟s definition was more than 10x
the Americans and so were actually asking for more not less than the Americans). Unnecessary
force is dishonorable and merely indicates that you are either an amateur or a sadist. In other
words, as Sun-tzu put it, “To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill.”
The most powerful point of a person‟s punch is about an inch from full extension; the weakest
point is at the person‟s shoulder. The safest point, therefore, is to have your torso directly
touching your opponent‟s. The idea is to diffuse a weapon rather than remove it – taking the arm
away from an attacker could easily escalate a confrontation. Thus, the ideal response makes
you a possible target while getting close enough to the attacker to diffuse the situation. This is
true for physical or verbal self-defense. In addition, every boxer knows the most dangerous
punch is the sucker punch or a one-two combination; if you focus on the obvious or first punch,
you will miss the real danger in the second punch. Thus, an appropriate response first deals not
with the obvious attack, but with the hidden one. The basic defense principles are 1) recognize
that someone is being attacked, 2) identify the type of attack being used, which is usually
hidden, 3) know the best type of response to fit the attack, 4) and know how to follow through.
Virginia Satir is one of the nation‟s foremost therapists and she has developed in her books a
set of terms for common verbal behavior patterns. These pattern classifications happen to relate
directly to the natural elemental force terms used in ancient pagan religions. The “Computer” (or
Earth force) is afraid that her/his feelings will be found out. The “Placater” (or Water force) is
afraid that people will become angry and never come back again. The “Blamer” (or Fire force) is
afraid that there is no respect or affection available. The “Distracter” (or Wind force) is in
continual chaotic panic. And, the “Leveler” (or Emptiness force – or fifth element) displays
genuine feelings and is the simplest to deal with. The hardest to spot and deal with, however, is
the “Phony Leveler” (or Evil force). Satir provides an example of five people in an elevator
stopped between floors to explain the different modes. In each of the verbal patterns, except for
the Leveler, there is a distinct clash between the inner feelings and the outer demeanor. In other
words, people hardly every say what they mean.
Computer: There is undoubtedly some perfectly simple reason why this elevator isn‟t moving.
Certainly there is no cause whatever for alarm.
Placater: Oh, I hope I didn‟t do anything to cause this. I sure didn‟t mean to.
Blamer: Which one of your idiots was fooling around with the buttons?
Distracter: Did one of you hit the Stop Button? Oh, I didn‟t mean that; of course none of you
would do anything like that! It is, however, extremely easy to do that sort of thing by
accident. Why do things like this only happen to me?
Leveler: Personally, I‟m scared.
In addition to understanding the preferred Satir mode one uses under stress, it is also important
to understand the presuppositions of power. A presupposition is something that a native
speaker of a language knows is part of the meaning of a sequence of that language, even if it is
not overtly present in the sequence. A major reason people do not realize that verbal violence is
being used against them is that they have never been taught about presuppositions. That is why
they feel hurt or insulted in response to something that sounds, on the surface, like a nice thing
to say. Suzette Haden Elgin is an applied psycholinguist professor at San Diego State University
who has spent over 60 years categorizing, writing about, and lecturing on presuppositions of
verbal violence. Aggra Vating‟s brutal note seems to combine a fairly straightforward Blamer
mode with a mild Computer mode. The note covers a wide variety of presuppositions such as 1)
There is something terribly wrong with John, 2) John is having a hard time with his job, 3) It
doesn‟t take much intelligence or ability to understand what to do his job, so there‟s no point
trying to hide or deny it, 4) John has the ability to control his employees, if he cares to, and my
personal favorite, 5) “everybody hates you, nobody likes you, you‟re should just go eat worms.”
The fact that Aggra begins the sequence with “John” does not turn this poison letter into any
kind of personal or tender statement. John has clearly been slugged hard. The statement was
further turned malicious when accentuated with words like “obviously” and exclamation marks.
The unfortunate characteristic of power is that it is a net zero sum product – either you have it or
someone else has it. While in the “real world,” egos, nepotism, and codependent relationships
often produce personal goals that conflict with appropriate business or community missions, in
negotiations or peace making the end goal should always be inventing options for mutual gains
in order for what is referred to as a “Win-Win” situation. When you deal from a source of power
as judge, boss, president, teacher, or parent you cannot ever reach this condition. It is better as
a teaching facilitator to act as mediator or negotiator. The best goal will be for John, Aggra, and
the rest of the class to feel like they have won something. “Real” learning and positive
experiences only come from overcoming conflict and making objective judgments of right and
wrong. “Conflict friendly” cultures are both desirable and attainable. Everything Aggra said could
have been appropriate without the emphasis words and with more references to factual
personal experiences and/or related research. I would expect, in fact, that most people would
agree with Aggra in that a facilitator that allows arguing for any length of time is going to receive
significant resentment until she/he quickly takes the situation into hand and eventually forcefully
shuts its down.
Again, Aggra‟s posting is primarily a Blamer (or fire) message. The worst response to fire, of
course, is more fire – the best example of the most immature communications is a shouting
match between two blamers (where one only bases winning on having bigger guns – by being,
for example, the instructor). The better response to fire is water. In martial arts, a definition of a
water force is one that does not “accept” the external force and either returns it or gets out of the
way. One teaching model for a martial arts class is to set up two large parallel pieces of duct
tape on the floor and asking the students to stand between the tape stripes. The students are
then told she/he is standing on a railroad track and that a train is coming and could they please
demonstrate their best possible blocks. The right answer, of course is to get off the track! It is
next common in a dojo to demonstrate rolls and falls. The physical idea of a fall is to get the
most parts of your body to slap the ground at the same type – the mental idea is to return all of
the energy of the approaching floor back into the floor. If done correctly, a fall should sound just
like the slap from throwing a bucket of water onto the ground. In blaming verbal confrontations,
the idea is to get out of the way and gently return the force of the attack back to its source. An
appropriate placator response to Aggra might thusly start with a request for information about
the time exactly the negative opinion was developed, although the victim would usually in
principle be the one to do this. The key, though, is to get out of the way of the negative energy.
A third party response, on the other hand, would normally start in computer mode. Such is also
the safest place for an inexperienced “communications samurai to begin.” Such a mindset will
hopefully help one to be ever mindful about being too personal. A response like, “It is interesting
that so many managers believe they can control their employees” can easily get very personal
and confrontational, for example, by adding “of your age” to “managers.” Remember that what
the Blamer most desires is basic respect and affection, and everyone deserves those things.
The typical first negotiations step is the appropriate bridge, clarifying, and strategy questioning
designed to demonstrate a concern for and clarifying of the other person‟s objectives while
revealing specific barriers to harmony (simplest example being “Is that right? Tell me more”).
The second step is to then identify the negotiation style. Negotiations are not only affected by
the individual style of each person but also by the combination of styles of those involved. The
five commonly used negotiation styles are compromising, accommodating, collaborating,
avoiding, and competing. The competing style is described as an aggressive win-lose style that
relies primarily on power and dominance usually resulting in but hostility and resentment. The
competing style, however, may be appropriate in situations when time is limited, the other side
is forcing negative consequences, and when your position is sufficiently superior in terms of
power, information, or qualifications. Normally when confronting, though, you should politely
explain why you believe the other party is being unfair and emphasize the need for cooperation.
Let all parties know that you are ready and willing to listen to his or her needs and that you
would appreciate the same courtesy. Concede minor points to focus on more important (or
hidden) issues, include maintaining a good relationship, use clear and specific language, and
attempt to talk through differences (starting with several simple affirmations such as agreeing
simply the weather is unusually good or unpleasant) before working towards a consensus.
“Now,” said the doctor, “we will begin, yes?” (Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth)
Assuming that I happen to be the first responder to Aggra‟s posting (caught early), that Aggra‟s
negative posting was the first one, and that there hasn‟t already been a dozen flames back and
forth, I would send a public posting trying to diffuse Aggra‟s original statements and get more
input from her. One issue to be resolved before responding to Aggra‟s note is to identify which
preposition to respond to, because there are so many to choose from. It will be important to
decide which one of the series of punches is really the one intended to dig deepest or which one
might have made the most injury to John. An attempt at forming a responding post to the Main
newsgroup as well as personal emails to Aggra and John follows. A follow-up email to Aggra
might need to be more direct or it might only need to paraphrase Aggra‟s response.
Class, we want to all do each other the favor and courtesy of listening to each other‟s
needs while treating everyone as equals. We are here to learn and share opinions with a
tone that communicates respect and the ability to agree and disagree. Please refer to my
welcoming message where I include the ground rules for postings.
Ms. Vating, a deep concern for another team member‟s success is an admirable goal.
Your opinions and participation are valued, but please be mindful of your tone as it is
easy to offend others in the online environment, even unintentionally. Perhaps, it might
have been useful to mention in your recent posting to John specific personal experiences
with techniques you have employed in identifying past resentment and lose in team
efficiency that you have experienced and how you have addressed the particular damage
that had be done to those relationships. You might also have cited specific works on the
topic. Thank you for your contributions and efforts for constructive and professional
John, I just wanted to let you know that your experience and input is valuable to this
group and our learning experience. I encourage you to continue the great work and
The relevant text from the welcoming text would be:
I want to remind you that there are certain ground rules we must all follow in order to reach
our goals. I would like each student to refer to his or her “Tools for Teams” textbook and
recall what was studied in GEN 101/300 (see Student Guide at
http://corptrain.phoenix.edu/com515/toolbox/index.htm). The ground rules below can be
found in Section 2: Getting Started, on page 69 under “The Key to Team Success.”
1. Be a good listener
2. Keep an open mind
3. No Cheap Shots
4. Participate in the discussion
5. Ask for Clarification
6. Give everyone a chance to speak
7. Focus on the present and the future, not the past
8. Deal with particular rather than general problems
9. Don't be defensive if your idea is criticized
10. Be prepared to carry out group decisions
11. All comments remain in this Class
12. Everyone is an equal in this session
13. Be polite - don't interrupt
I might be temped to send the following if I was another student (but the above is better)…
Aggra, do you see the failure to control employee behavior as a general problem or as
one confined to middle management? The issue raised is certainly worth exploring;
however, before any attempt can be made to answer it, there is the problem of actually
putting one‟s finger on the cause for the indifference to controlling employee behavior
that you have noticed. Past studies on the question of responsibility have tended to not
really get to the heart of the matter, as you are of course aware. What do you think,
though, about the recent results from the Calumet Institute Report or the study from the
Borogrovian Center for Social Reform?
If I was John, I might be tempted to send this response (but, again, the above is better)…
Aggra, let me be sure I understood what you saying. You seem angry because you think,
1) I am having a hard time with my job; 2) It does not take much intelligence or ability to
understand what to do, so there is no point in trying to deny it; 3) Basically, I have the
ability to control my employees, if I care to; And, 4) Until I start forcing behaviors onto
them, no one is going to like me. Perhaps, we can discuss these opinions some more.
Aggra is a difficult person, but difficult people built this country. We need room for them in our
system and we must appreciate their sense of dignity and self-worth. There are many cultural
considerations to global classes. For example, some Native Americans, primarily the Sioux and
the Navaho, have only two ratings for people: blood family or opposition. Then, other Native
Americans consider a vigorous handshake as a sign of excessive aggression. Some cultures
consider looking directly into one‟s eyes as snooping on the soul while standing on the threshold
of a Thai or Laotian home insults the spirits of departed ancestors who are believed to reside in
the cracks. Further, to calm someone brought up in the Western world, most people know to get
“outta their face” and out of their space. Yet when dealing with someone from the Middle East,
say an Egyptian or an Iranian, backing away communicates that the person is unworthy of your
respect. One of America‟s most famous diplomats, Robert A. Lovett, once said, “Do not give
concessions to the French without getting something in a return. They will not feel gratitude.
They will only feel contempt for your gullibility.” Then, a century ago an Englishman eager to be
one of the few nonbelievers to visit the Arab holy city of Mecca sneaked in by browning his skin
and faking religious fever. All was fine until he bought some bananas. The merchant asked for
five coppers, which the man quickly paid. And, he was immediately mobbed and thrown into jail
after threats on his life. Everyone easy identified him to be a pretender simply as he had wholly
failed to negotiate at all for the bananas. More to the point, many tough business people
consider Aggra's tone to be a normal part of daily discussions and would be taken aback and
bemused by any peer that was offended by it. A common part of American urban childhood is, in
fact, playing a game called “The Dozens” or “Woofing” where the first one to get offended loses.
Sadly, many Americans have never been taught the difference between using truth for love and
truth to cause pain and so often foolishly mistake, for instance, “you are fat” for “YOU are FAT!”
I know of many companies that use the Myers-Briggs personality test (over 25% nationwide) to
profile individuals that should best “fit” within a company. The only appropriate use of the test
(unlike how they‟re used), however, is to guarantee a wide, rather than narrow, variety of
personalities. A wide variety, of course, will require far greater communication and mediation
skills. There has been a tremendous growth in academic courses and programs in conflict
management, dispute resolution, and peace studies. Even back in 1986, Paul Wehr found that
59% of universities offered at least one course in techniques such as negotiations, collective
bargaining, arbitration, and mediation. These curricula also form a strong basis for proficient
sales skills. The trend since then has been one more of integration with an increased emphasis
on interactions at the interpersonal level, evidenced by the brisk appearance of curricula
focused specifically on conflict management. There are now over twenty programs in the US
that offer graduate certificate, masters, or doctoral degrees specifically in dispute resolution (and
many more are under development). Core skills and knowledge areas include mediation skills
and procedures, negotiation theory, conflict assessment, listening/assertion skills, power issues,
and ethical sensitivity. The problem at present, sadly, is that an inadequate job market for the
number of students these programs will be producing will force students to be entrepreneurial in
carving out new roles within existing structures. In the end, their success will be our success.
Some suggested readings besides references made in the text:
Virginia Satir Peoplemaking (Science and Behavior Books, 1972).
Ursula K. Le Guin Direction of the Road, pp 244-250 of The Wind’s Twelve Quarters (Bantum
Fisher, Ury, and Patton Getting to Yes (Houghton Mifflin, 1981) and Getting past No (Bantam,
Lax and Sebenius The Manager as Negotiator (Free Press, Collier Macmillian, 1989).
Edited by Kolb When Talk Works: Profiles of Mediators (Jossey-Bass, 1994).
Schwartz The Skilled Facilitator (Jossey-Bass, 1994).
Stone, Patton, Heen, Fisher Difficult Conversations (Penhuin, 2000).
Bill Rogers Behavior Management: A Whole-School Approach (Scholastic, 1996).
The Negotiation Journal http://www.pon.harvard.edu/publications/nj/index.php3
The Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution http://trinstitute.org/ojpcr/
Association for Conflict Resolution http://www.acresolution.org/