We were all taught from a young age to be polite and respectful of those we engage with. Being brutally honest is often frowned upon as it seems like we’re not giving other people “face”, and
we’re usually labelled “rude” for doing so.
But this fear of coming across rude can stop us from calling people out even when they’re at fault, stunt our emotional development, and negatively affect our careers and relationships.
It’s one thing to be inconsiderably rude and quite another to be strategically impolite. We’re not asking anyone to turn into Gordon Ramsay à la Hell’s Kitchen but holding our tongue in fear
of offending others won’t do us good when we’re being belittled or taken advantage of.
“You can’t be everyone’s darling and neither should you be,” shares Petra Zink, Director and Head Coach of impaCCCt, a consulting agency that conducts personal branding workshops.
“Saying ‘no’ doesn’t need to be disrespectful or awkward. There are many power phrases that can help you get your point across convincingly and effectively. One such word is ‘because’. Studies have shown that simply adding ‘because’ to your sentence when you ask for something, or even when you do or don’t do something, can make people more likely to empathise with you as it justifies your behavior.”
Deb Raj, a Client Services Manager, adds that when it comes to something you’re passionate about (like, say, your career), you shouldn’t stay mum if a retort will help get you what you want.
“A former employer got a stern email from me when he refused to give me a reference. I emailed him the legal ramifications of not giving me what I requested. I then said he didn’t have to sing my praises but he legally had to note that I worked there in the role for the duration that I was there,” she says. Needless to say, Deb got what she wanted.
Do rudeness right
Understandably, sticking up for yourself can be challenging.
“I’m not a pushover, but there are times when I have to give in or just bite my tongue,” says Creative consultant Sarah Saw. “I’ve learnt that, in life, you definitely have to choose your battles, be it in a relationship or work. [But] I will put my foot down when I’m pushed to do something ridiculous or uncalled for,” she says.
It certainly takes guts to be “politely impolite”, but thankfully, you will get there with practice and by following these simple rules:
1. Don’t let anger get in the way of emotional intelligence. Defend yourself in a cool, calm, and reasonable manner.
2. Be assertive and firm without sounding demanding or aggressive.
3. Trust your gut. If it’s something worth fighting for, put your foot down. If not, it’s fine to let things slide.
Take the first step
Need more encouragement to stand up for yourself? Remind yourself about the recent outpouring of stories about sexism and misogyny in Hollywood. If all these stars kept silent in order to save face, the important issue of sexual harassment and assault would not have come to light. In a rather revealing expose in People, 22 seasoned Hollywood stars shared their personal tales of chauvinism and bias.
Reese Witherspoon in particular revealed how she finally decided to speak up about the harassment and sexual assault she experienced during her career thanks to all the brave women who came forward. And because of all the buzz that was created, sexual harassment in the workplace is being addressed worldwide.
Text: Stephanie Sharon Koh