How to stop rude behavior

woman holding up hand with stop written on palmDon’t you hate it when you’re interrupted? How about when somebody else says something that feels like a personal attack? Being disrespected feels awful for any normal person. And the good news is that you don’t have to put up with it! Rude behavior is absolutely forbidden under Robert’s Rules.

When you are a member of a board of directors, a city council, a committee or any governing body that uses Robert’s Rules, you can stop rude behavior. Here are some sample exchanges:

1. Jasmine is explaining her position, when suddenly John interrupts:

John interrupts: Jasmine, you don’t realize that the rules have changed! We can’t do what you’re proposing.

Jasmine: Excuse me, John, I was speaking. Under Robert’s Rules, when a member has the floor, another member may not interrupt. Now, as I was saying…

2.  Suppose that Jasmine is a timid soul and not used to speaking up for herself? In that case, the chair of the meeting must stop the rude behavior and defend her right to speak.

Chair: John, Jasmine has the floor at this time. Interruptions are not allowed under our rules of order. Kindly wait until being recognized by the chair before speaking.

3. Later, Peter gets the floor and explains his views, and Michael jumps on him.

Michael: Peter, honestly, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard you say this year! It doesn’t make any sense.

John:  Mr. Chair, I believe that under our rules of order, personal attacks are not allowed during discussion.

Chair: That is correct. Members will refrain from any attacking language.

4. Or, if Peter is so confused he doesn’t know what to say, the chair takes the initiative:

Chair: Michael, personal attacks of that nature are never allowed. Members will kindly observe the rules of our council and show courtesy and respect to one another at all times.

While we wish it were otherwise, there will always be some people in meetings who throw their weight around and try to dominate others. You have the duty and the right to defend yourself. And the chair, president, or mayor has the duty of keeping those folks in line.

It’s right there in Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 11th edition, p. 450 and section 43. Stop rude behavior today and enjoy better meetings tomorrow!

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Ann Macfarlane

Ann G. Macfarlane is a Professional Registered Parliamentarian. She offers an interactive and user-friendly way to master the key points for effective, efficient and fair meetings. Her background as a diplomat and Russian translator enables her to connect with elected officials and nonprofit board directors and give them the tools they need for success. She is the author of Mastering Council Meetings: A guidebook for elected officials and local governments.


  1. Diane on January 22, 2016 at 8:59 pm

    During a council meeting prior to my taking my position I was verbally abused by our City Manager. Had I known then how Robert’s Rules worked, I would have turned the tide on him. Thanks for this tidbit of information! Now that I am a councilmember I know what to do.

    • Ann Macfarlane on January 23, 2016 at 8:56 am

      Very glad to hear that this is useful! Let’s spread the word that civility is essential. And thank you for your public service!

  2. Ken Kubler on January 26, 2016 at 2:23 am

    Recently during a meeting I moved to go into executive session, it was second, then the member seconding my motion voted against the motion. What strategic value can you think of for doing that, I did have concerns and questions about employee conduct.

    • Ann Macfarlane on January 26, 2016 at 8:56 am

      Ken, the current understanding of “second the motion” is that a member seconds a motion in order to demonstrate that he would like the body to consider it. Whereas in the past, “seconding” meant that you were in favor of the motion, this is no longer the case. So the action is perfectly OK from Robert’s Rules point of view. Of course I don’t know what was in the member’s mind about the issues, so can’t address that.
      Thanks for writing!