Whispering and Other Rude Communication

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Have you ever been in the presence of people who whisper to the person next to them, leaving everyone else out of the conversation? It might not bother you, until they both glance at you and one of them nods or laughs, giving you the impression that they're talking about you. Then it's blatantly rude.

Or how about people who suddenly break into another language in your presence, give you a glance, and then give each other a look? There's no doubt in your mind they're doing that to leave you out of the conversation, and it has the same effect as whispering.

There are so many ways people can make you feel left out or wonder if you're being judged. Whispering, speaking a language they know you don't understand, or giving each other a knowing look can make you uncomfortable.


When people whisper for any reason, they need to include everyone who is with them. Even if they're keeping their voices down because they think speaking aloud would be disruptive or disrespectful, it appears that they are gossiping.

Whispering excludes all but the two people involved in the quiet conversation. Others around them often feel awkward, self-conscious, and angry. After all, if they were having an appropriate discussion, they shouldn't have to whisper, so they must be talking about someone there. At least, that's the perception.

Is it ever okay to whisper? There are certain circumstances when a whisper is appropriate, as long as it's brief, to the point, and relevant only to the other person. You need to make sure you keep your body language in check so others don't think you're talking about them. 

Here are some situations when it would be fine to whisper:

  • You need to inform someone that she has toilet paper on her shoe, a button she forgot to close, or spinach in her teeth.
  • It's time to start the meeting.
  • You're not feeling well, and you need to leave.
  • You need to know where the restroom is located.
  • The person misspoke and needs to make a correction.
  • You have laryngitis.

What can you do when people whisper in your ear? If you don't want to contribute to the person's rudeness, ask her to wait until later to discuss whatever it is she's talking about. This lets her know how you feel, and it keeps you from appearing as rude as she is.

When It's Rude to Speak Another Language

You may have had the experience of being with someone who would break into another language, knowing you wouldn't be able to understand them. That is just as rude as whispering. If you're at a nail salon or restaurant, and the employees speak another language, it probably doesn't bother you if they keep their conversation brief. However, when they carry on a long discussion and break into laughter, it makes you wonder how much they value you as a customer.

Their behavior is rude, even if they don't speak English very well. Although you may have no objection to their speaking a foreign language if there is an immediate need, when you're the paying customer, they should never do something that will make you feel uncomfortable.

If You Must Speak Another Language

If the native language is your second language, you should do your best to learn as many words and phrases as you need to get by without being rude. However, there are likely to be times when you need to resort to what you know. When this happens, let those nearby know why you have to switch languages momentarily for clarification.

There are times when speaking another language is appropriate:

  • The people don't speak the native language well enough to communicate what needs to be said.
  • One of them needs an interpreter.
  • In a business situation, when a customer only speaks the other language.
  • You are in a class to learn the other language, and the teacher uses an immersion technique, meaning only that language will be spoken in the classroom.

Silent Glances

Another rude form of communication is a glance that clearly holds meaning that only the other person can understand. For example, if you are talking about something, you notice a couple of the people exchanging a quick glance and smiling. If they do this frequently, it will probably make you self-conscious and wonder about their silent communication and body language.

If you are in a discussion with two or more other people, try your best to keep this type of exchange to a minimum. Even if the topic holds some sort of secret meaning between you and someone else, you can make everyone around you uncomfortable.

There are times, however, when you need to give someone a look that communicates something specific.

Here are some times when the surreptitious glance is appropriate:

  • It's time to leave, but you don't want to interrupt the discussion.
  • The other person said something inappropriate, and you need to let him know.
  • You want to signal that the other person should contribute something to the conversation.
  • You have a silent code to let your child know when his behavior needs to improve.

Be Courteous to Everyone Present

No matter how strong the desire is to whisper to someone when you're with a group, hold back until later. It's more important to show respect to everyone by including them in the conversation. Constantly whispering can become a bad habit if you do it often, so make a conscious effort to refrain.