Are You Protecting Yourself From Rude, Obnoxious People?

by Derek Halpern · 66 comments

Ever get a rude and obnoxious email or comment from one of your subscribers, clients, or customers?

You know you shouldn’t let it bother you, but it does.

And rightfully so. You’re a human being.

Here’s what you can do about it:

#1 Decide If There Was a Miscommunication

You won’t be surprised to know that sometimes rude and obnoxious emails stem from miscommunication.

To elaborate, let me show you a conversation that my friend Sean Malarkey had with one of his email subscribers.

See how Sean handled it?

He didn’t get frustrated. He asked if they were having a bad day, and then bam. He found out what was wrong, and discovered that there was a miscommunication, which he quickly rectified.

Key takeaway #1: You may get obnoxious emails, and you may instantly get pissed or defensive, but sometimes a miscommunication occurred, and you can win over a new subscriber.

Or, you could try my strategy…

#2 Fire the Subscriber or Client

Some people may disagree with me here, but life is short.

If you get a nasty comment, and you don’t feel like it’s worth dealing with it, you can just delete them from your list or refund their money for your product.

I know this is extreme, but if this one person is going to negatively affect your productivity, it may be worth it.

For example, a few months back I wrote an article about split-testing results. I mentioned the tool I used and included an affiliate link. It was a natural link, and it wasn’t forced. It wasn’t even a hard sales pitch.

Someone emailed me and said “strike 1” because I pitched a product.

My response was simple:

“I just gave you the other 2 strikes and deleted you from my list.”

Yes, it’s a little harsh, but he acted like he was the umpire of my business and website, and that’s why I got frustrated.

And this leads me to…

Key takeaway #2: You run your website and business. You reserve the right to fire customers, delete subscribers, trash comments, and all of that. If people don’t like it, that’s fine. They can write about it on their website.

#3 “Kill ’em with Kindness

Again, I’m calling out Sean Malarkey here.

When you receive an obnoxious comment, and you feel you MUST address it, you can always take the high road, and do as Sean says, “Kill ’em with kindness.”

It makes sense. When people respond irrationally, and you respond with kindness, the aggressor tends to back pedal. You witnessed it first hand in Sean’s email exchange earlier, and I’ve done it in countless other situations too.

Key Takeaway #3: When people respond with rude comments, you can simply be nice. It may win them over, it may not, but at least you’ll be able to sleep at night.

The Bottom Line

This is not an exhaustive list on how to handle bad customers. There’s other strategies out there too. What have you tried, and did it work? Share your experience in the comments.

About the Author: Derek Halpern ran marketing at DIYthemes, and is the founder of Social Triggers. To get more tips on how to be confident, sign up to his list here.

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I was a department store cashier for a few years. Lots of good people, a few rude ones, a few obnoxious ones and a lot of sick people (thanks for spreading the germs). The best thing to do about rude people was ignore them. I would get them through my line without reacting to their comments. I’d look up and smile at the people in line behind them, even chat with the person next in line as I bagged stuff up for the rude people. That would really aggravate them. Which was kind of nice as petty revenge, plus my supervisor couldn’t really say much about it.

Derek Halpern

I commend you, heh. I imagine working in retail would be horrible. Especially when you come into contact with someone rude and obnoxious.

What’s the craziest story that you’ve had? I know you have a bunch, I’m sure :-).

Nathalie Lussier

Hey Derek, I loved seeing the back and worth with Sean’s emails. I think text is such an easy thing to “take the wrong way”, because there aren’t any tones or emotions directly embedded.

Oh and the internet is such an easy place for people to become “reactionaries” where they just hit reply, retweet, or comment on stuff without thinking twice.

I’m glad you’re addressing this head on!

Derek Halpern

Hey Nathalie,

You’re right. People do react. What’s worse, since they’re hiding behind a computer, they tend to react like people in a riot situation. Since they’re protected by the computer screen, they say things they’d never say otherwise… de-individuation at its’ best. I’m no psychologist, but I suspect that’s the reason ha ha.

Derek Halpern

Oh, also, one more thing. I bet you have had a few interesting emails with people over the years too. You should share one with us πŸ™‚

Willie Jackson

Really important lesson here.

It’s easy to get emotionally entangled in our work and to take issues personal when things go sour. Taking the high road is the best idea 10 times out of 10, even when every fiber of your being wants to lash out.

I completed a small project for a client recently and the person spazzed on me at the last minute, refusing to pay and mentioning that they were considering legal action.

Over $650.

I told them to keep me posted.

Great post, Derek.

Dave Doolin

Willie, I’m waiting for the day someone steals my content, then sues me for copyright infringement. =)

Clients like this will find it more and more difficult to acquire *anyone* to do work for them. This is the other side of the social media sword. It’s why I’m turning down work from potential clients when I don’t feel I can absolutely delight them with my work. Not worth dealing with such people in the long run.

Willie Jackson

Not worth it at all! Short term or otherwise.

Chris Johnson

Ha. This was my 2009. And it took a year to wash that thinking off of my mind.

Derek Halpern

This is why I don’t do client work. Ever.

Willie Jackson

Smart man. I love the pain, though πŸ˜‰

Adam Baird

Working with clients is by far both the best and worst part of my job. I’ve had a lot of bad clients that make life miserable, but the clients that are really fun to work with make it so worthwhile, and make my job very rewarding.

With that said, I can’t see myself doing full time client work for the long haul.

Bryan Thompson

This whole web consulting business would be whole lot more fun if we didn’t have to deal with those pesky clients.

JC Deen

Nice tips.

I’ve handled other situations similarly as to the email screenshot you shared. In sales and marketing, you’re bound to step on peoples toes. And that’s fine because not everyone is open to your ideas, product, or whatever.

Just a month ago, I sent out an email letting my customers/subscribers know we will be having t-shirts for sale soon.

I got a response that would’ve really offended me a year ago, but nowadays, I’m rather used to crazy emails. I just responded with a nice “I’m sorry you feel this way, but I’m glad you’ve been a reader for this long and it’s entirely up to you if you want to buy a t-shirt ;)”

She loosened up just from the fact that I took the time to personally respond to her email and she’s still a regular reader. Dunno if I’ll catch her in a t-shirt anytime soon, tho. haha


Derek Halpern

You know, it’s like people forget that you run websites because it’s a business. Yes, we love to give you awesome content regularly, but at some point, it’s time we collect some cash for all of our hard work. Not sure why people don’t understand that.

Curt Donohue

I hate to sound negative, but I believe it is because people are generally selfish. It’s easy to forget other people have needs when all you can think of are your own.

For instance, I once confronted by someone who thought that selling my work (e-commerce video tutorials) was basically evil. He thought I should give it way for free as if it was an open-source project. What’s funny is that this same person make a living in the technology industry. He doesn’t give his time away for free, but I guess I should. That’s pretty hypocritical. Also, I have a hard time giving everything away for free when I need to be worrying about paying the bills.

It’s kind of funny, really, because people don’t seem to understand that we would not be very technologically evolved if people hadn’t been paid to do work. Would I be incorrect is saying that there probably aren’t many (any?) free projects that have exceeded that quality and capabilities of paid for projects.

For instance, compare GIMP to PhotoShop. GIMP is awesome, but it would be hard to say it was as good as or better than PhotoShop. Also, compare Open Office to Microsoft Office. Whether you love or hate Microsoft, I think their products beats Open Office.


Everybody is selfish. I’m heavily involved in marketing, but you’d better believe that I get irritated when I see an otherwise ethical niche become one huge piece of sales copy.

I keep my “job” websites and my “real” websites separate. My “real” website is a resource for local musicians and fans to connect – but have I ever pitched a product or made a dime from it? No way! And my readers appreciate it – in fact, they respect it. And it really IS respectable, because they can count on me to run that website whether it is profitable or not.

My sales websites, though, are a totally different story. I don’t expect anybody to respect them, nor do I expect anyone to respect me for running them. They’re my job, my bread and butter. The moment I stop making money, they’re going to go in the trash. We all do it – we all know it.

The pursuit of wealth is selfish to begin with, just as much as the search for gratification through website browsing.

Dave Doolin

There is this mentality among some people I know (mostly developer geeks) who feel they must fully read for comprehension every email they receive, and often to respond pointwise.

These people regard spam as an unwarranted and personal attack on their attention. They seem to feel by you emailing them, they are obliged to read and possibly reply. Thus, the anger: “How *dare* you email me _marketing_ material.”

I get these little insights from having a foot in both communities. The difference, of course, being that in the marketing community I can admit to being a developer, but in the developer community, I need to keep my marketing activity firewalled away. Strange, but true.

Chris Johnson

Another good one. I have a “refund first, ask questions later” policy. When I was more active, I had some seriously unhinged people taking potshots at what I was doing. Who cares?

Saying no and cultivating indifference towards mediocre clients is the only way to escape mediocrity. <–one of the best things on client relations possible. (Not exactly safe for work, but the longest presentaiton video I'm likely to watch this year. It, like all other good things, came from @norcross.)

Willie Jackson

Refund first is a great policy. It’s much cheaper.

Bryan Thompson

Chris, I always like your refund policy, especially the part that said, ‘no dirty looks’
One of the aphorisms that has helped me out in these situations….
“What you think of me is none of my business”

Victoria Gazeley

Such an important topic! I know a company currently who has a guy on their list who is harassing them and has become quite abusive to staff over the fact he couldn’t buy his way into one of their coaching programs after the registration deadline. It’s reached the point where the company is considering getting their lawyer involved. It’s gotten that bad. Crazy! All that to say, these tips are super – when you’re dealing with rational people. But sometimes it goes beyond rational, then you have to bring out the big guns… unfortunately.

Haroun Kola

I like these tips, especially the “kill them with kindness” advice. I will pay more attention to this piece of wisdom.

George Jardine

You read my mind. I’ve exercised both your #2 and #3 solutions to the various folks who either can’t, or won’t read instructions when purchasing. Once you’ve decided if there was a miscommunication, it’s generally pretty easy to know which route to take. And if the customer is particularly dense, I’ll give them double their money back.

Derek Halpern

That’s great when there is a miscommunication, but sometimes people are just rude. Those people need to be fired, for sure, heh.

Sean Cook


This is one of your trademark no-B.S. posts that keeps me reading. I worked in Student Affairs for 15 years, so I have a generation of experience behind me in dealing with difficult people (college students and their parents can be a tough crowd sometimes). Yet I forget this some days in interactions on the internet, and have witnessed some interesting exchanges in several forums lately. A great reminder to treat others as you wish to be treated, as well as a reminder that sometimes it’s best to just limit your exposure to toxic people and conversations. And simple things like what Sean Malarkey did can skillfully change the tone of an exchange.

Derek Halpern

Thanks Sean. I’m a straight shooter, that’s for sure. I also dated myself 30 years older than I really am by using the term straight shooter. πŸ™‚

Daniel Roach

I can’t disagree with you on #2, Derek. 9 times out of 10, I want to fix whatever might have gone wrong in communicating with my customer, but there are times when I do draw the line. Sometimes clients and customers just aren’t a good fit and it’s better for everyone if we go our separate ways and find other people we do jive with. No harm done, no offense taken, we’re just not a good match and that’s probably not going to change.

Derek Halpern

Yep. It’s hard to swallow that sometimes, but it’s better to be okay with it than letting it bother you for the rest of the day.

When I first started sending emails, I’d get a lot of positive replies. Every so often I’d get a few negative ones, and I’d let it ruin my day. Not anymore though.

Thomas Bodetti

How about strike three, or perhaps you prefer, go to jail, do not pass go do not collect $200.00 Good luck with your Winning Strategy, You really seem like a nice person but all in all I think I can do without the drama and the firing people from your list, dont forget bubba that without customers you do not have a business.

Some people tend to think that way when they get a little taste of success then they think they can treat anyone any kind of way because they just dont need that kind of problem in their business, poor mr Guru.

I truly feel bad for ya.

Derek Halpern

Thomas, let me clarify. I’m saying life is too short that you shouldn’t let people get you down when they’re rude and obnoxious. If you prefer to deal with rude and obnoxious people in your business, that’s your prerogative. Me? I prefer to deal with people who are happy to work with me.

Bruce E. Simmons (BruSimm)

I enjoy killing MOST challenging interactions with kindness. In the end, it wins out… sometimes it takes a while, but hey, at least you didn’t go down their road.

Every now and then, there’s just one that is so g*d*n dense or what have you, that it’s a complete waste of time to try and change the diva’s mind.

Especially when they start spreading “inaccuracies” around about you. Then it hits the next level where you have to either set them up for a good argument they will lose, or just ignore them but make sure you warn your community, I mean express your experience with the community you are a part of.

The nasty options aren’t very satisfying in the long run though.

But that’s just my take.

Derek Halpern

You are right. Nasty options aren’t the best method. If someone responds with criticism, and it’s specific. I understand, and I’ll never treat them poorly. However, if someone is mean for the sake of being mean, I will almost always delete them from my list or fire them as a customer.


What a great topic!

While I admire, can relate to, and love the way Sean handled that situation with the person who accused him of spamming, your response to the ‘strike 1’ idiot is PRICELESS! Couldn’t stop laughing…

You’re absolutely right, when you make the decision to operate your own ‘gig’, you get to call the shots.

Derek Halpern

Thanks Debbie :-).

I could have responded to him and explained the way I do business, but is it worth it? He obviously doesn’t get it.


I don’t really feel that sharing a negative reaction makes somebody an idiot.The marketer that is above customer feedback is obviously too far up on a pedestal for me to ever want to do business with.

The average consumer has a difficult time holding down the contents of their stomach when they read sale copy. The marketers that realize this are the ones that don’t have to field angry comments.


L, the customer in the example was criticizing the marketer for trying to make money. If any reader believes that trying to make money with an email list is evil, that reader will obviously never buy. Therefore, he is worthless to the marketer. Firing him is a good choice.

Eric Dick

LOL @ Point # 2. β€œI just gave you the other 2 strikes and deleted you from my list.”

Derek Halpern



“Kill them with kindness” works almost every time. Plus, I go to bed feeling good about who I am and how I’ve behaved that day.

The few other times? Ignoring is fantastic. And tends to irritate people so much that it’s kinda fun. Those nights I go bed laughing.


It’s nice to hear this opinion shared on your site. I often get emails from people and wonder, do they realize there is an actual person that will read this? Short, curt, asking for hours of work on my end for free. I normally respond how I would love to, and then delete it and respond in a nicer manner. Let’s me get rid of the negative energy.

I love that you keep your power over dealing with nasty people.


Yeah it’s funny how some people naturally expect you to do EVERYTHING for them for free, just because you have done some things for free.

David @ Quillcards

I am clear with my replies, but for the little signals that indicate a customer wants to be appreciated, I listen to my wife – she’s good at finding the right words.

Curt Donohue


Great post. I’m really a big believer in giving the benefit of the doubt right away. I generally assume that a miscommunication has occurred until proven otherwise. Also, killing them with kindness almost always works. This is especially effective when there has been a miscommunication since the offender generally feels very bad about their terrible behavior.

I haven’t fired any of my internet clients yet. Maybe it’s because I’m pretty new. But I am just now getting some opportunities to consider it. I’ve fired people in my real life jobs so I’m not sure why I’m hesitant to do it here. It’s starting to become more of an option, though:)


Great advice!! One time I had this client and every time she made an appointment with me she used to complain so much ( I am in the beauty industry). One time I couldn’t take it I asked her politely why did she see me if she wasn’t happy with my services…She backed off instantly and said: “oh, no, you are the best, I ever had”. I guess her complaints had nothing to do with me..:)

Chris J

Between this post and the “FU Pay Me” video going around, I was moved to “kindly” part ways with a client today. It was… in the words of Steve Jobs… magical.


strike 1!

Grateful Al

One experience I’d share involved a self-described ‘guru’ (seriously, it was part of his marketing name). He had sent a marketing email with the subject that was like “Dude, You’ve Got To This!”

I sent him what I hoped would be a helpful email suggesting he take into consideration that it was addressed to my wife, so ‘Dude’ was not exactly something to move her to even open the email.

He responded to the effect that he had been trained to ‘be himself’ and that was exactly what he was doing. Fine. Then a flurry of caustic emails erupted from him about his success and my stupidity. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Secondly, BruSimm touched on another aspect, the power of the social media. Hell, there are companies springing up now to just monitor what is being said about yourself or your company to keep everything as positive as possible.

I’m pretty much convinced, it might be best to keep the old adage, “the customer is always right” and do what you can to make sure they are satisfied so they won’t go to great lengths to smear you because of their pent up frustrations.


NIce info …

Andrew Mooers

Some agents, real estate brokers that blog can develop itchy trigger finger. Where they delete, delete, delete. That hurts the blogging process. Takes away the two way communication that makes it a super way to deliver a message. Even if not everyone agrees with it.

Rob @ Atlanta Real Estate

Yeah, you just gotta stay calm.

Actually, now days when I get the frontal emails, I typically just ignore them.

That’s even easier.

Three Wheeler

As a blogger, the most hurtful comments are those criticisms which are absolutely spot on. Hitting the delete key is the easy option but a more profitable approach might be to address the issues raised. Fortune favors the brave.


Useful Article Derek. Yes, I do get such mails especially from the people who have a lot of time to pass and are not really interested to know your services/products. If you are a seasoned one, you immediately identify it. I normally exchange maximum 2-3 mails with such queries. My logic is, if they really liked my product and wanted to try they would have called me directly or else I should not waste my time on this.

Jeremy Reeves

Great stuff!

I’m a copywriter and deal with this ALL the time. Well maybe not all the time, but once in awhile πŸ˜‰

My rule is this. If I get a client and we don’t “mesh” well… if we bicker back and forth, argue, etc. and it wastes a lot of time…. they’re gone.

I typically take the high road approach and when they ask for the next project I simply say, “I felt that we didn’t work very well together. It’s nothing personal against you in the least, but I think both of us can be more effective working with different people”.

That type of response works great. Plus, it’s the truth πŸ™‚

Good stuff…

And by the way, I love the “click here to leave a comment” in the email you sent out. That’s brilliant.

Peter Lawlor

Your suggestions for dealing with rude emails from clients, readers, subscribers, etc. are right on. I know the sample email you posted probably bothered Sean a little, but it made me laugh. I’ve had bad days, but I can’t imagine emailing someone with that subject line.

I couldn’t agree more with firing people. Isn’t that one of the joys of being in business for ourselves? We get to pick with whom we work. I’ve had some consults with people exploring working arrangements lately and if I get a bad vibe that they’ll be unreasonable at some point, I turn down the work. I don’t need the aggravation. I’ve taken on difficult people in the past and they end up sucking up tons of your time and are never happy in the end no matter what you do.

Amie Marse

I couldn’t agree more with rule #2. I think it was “Toilet Paper Entrepreneur” that said to pick the type of clients you want and say no to the rest. In the short term you will have less work, in the long term you will only have the type of clients you like. This goes for any business model. If I come across a client that I don’t like as a person, then they are no longer a client.

I think it has a lot to do with the employee mindset. As a business owner you have control in this area. Take control and work with who you want πŸ™‚

Happy Vibes πŸ™‚

Michelle Martin

Hey!!! great post, although i’m lucky to get a comment let alone a negative one, but i’ll keep this in mind πŸ™‚

Phil Wollerman

Excellent post – as always. Last night I revisited this site, and here we have a treasury of ROFL email exchanges.

Here’s just one that exemplifies the wrong approach:

Hope you’all find it as funny and accurate as I did.


Stefan Jocić

Hi, Derek – excellent article!

But there is situations for which you don’t have the answer. Like the situation that I am dealing right now. I am having new client, never worked with him before. He paid me to make him a unique web page design based on WordPress (aka. WordPress theme) + coding of WP plugin for processing apartments reservations. He is now claiming that I rip him off (even he’d knew estimate and gave me 50% in advance). His conclusion comes from viewing source code in browser and claiming that his design have only ~190 lines of code. He is now acting rude, spamming my email and my twitter account via DM’s. I tried to explain him how things works, but he just won’t listen. Plus he wants his money back. I am pretty much on the edge right now, and I just don’t know how to deal with him. To be rude or to continue with reasonable explanations? Situation is way different when you have problems with person who pays you for your services.


Explain the situation to him, stop working for him and keep the money he already gave you. Explain to him that you will continue working after he has calmed down.

Otherwise, ignore him.


Great article! I sometimes let negative emails/comments get to me. Next one I get I plan to “Kill ’em with kindness”.

Sean Malarkey

Hey Derek,

Thanks for the mention here. And everyone else who applauded my approach.

I did leave out the final email exchange ( I didnt want to throw my better half under the bus to publicly -LOL) – but now that the traffic has died down and most likely only those who have commented and a few who are late to the party will see it – so here it is……..

After his last reply you can see here which was –

HIM: “Oops. Sorry about that, Sean, I didn’t realize you were affiliated. Thought you were just some knucklehead. Although that’s no excuse. Again, I do apologize. It was kind of a bad day, actually…”

I replied –

ME: “No worries. I get told to go fuck myself daily by my latin wife. I’m used to it!
Hope today is getting better!”

He replied –

HIM: “Ha! Much better now. Thanks for that. Those Latinas are a handful, aren’t they?”

I thought you might enjoy that. It’s not true – my wife has never said that – but I wanted to make him feel better and to laugh about the situation, and it worked!


Seann Valen

Hi Derek,

Great comments here! I was the lead massage therapist at a very high end athletic club and busy spa a few years back. A wedding party (future Bride included) of 6 women were scheduled for massages, facials, etc. They showed up late (20 min) & had obviously been drinking. My client had to use the restroom so she had one of her friends go with me. We got in the room & she decided to use the rr. When she got back we had about 20 min out of the orig hr massage left. When she got on the table she tried to tell me how to do the massage & had a very bad attitude, especially when I told her we only had now less than 20 min left. I finally ended the massage. When I came out to the reception area all of her friends + other clients were there. She was telling everyone that she had received the worst massage ever. She, decided to be the big shot & pay the entire bill with her credit card which was over $650. The card declined & she didn’t have another one. I was standing at the side of the counter and just smiled. :*) What sweet revenge! I didn’t have to say 1 word even though I was angry.
A long story to confirm that taking the high or neutral path is best.

Hadie Danker

i’m very Protecting My Self From Rude. As a blogger, the most hurtful comments are those criticisms which are absolutely spot on.

Jeff Sebring

Great advice. Sometimes it’s easy to react to criticism in defense before even considering if it’s valid, or where it might be coming from.

β€œCriticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” ~ Winston Churchill


This is nice! I liked it! It may be “Nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice”. You’re right, you gain a customer if you’re just being nice despite their stupidity sometimes. However, it isn’t easy to be nice to people who are rude at you. Thanks for sharing it! It will help me when I enter the field of Human Resource management.