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Rude or Outspoken? How you Draw the Line Between Crossing the Line and Being Professionally Assertive 

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Do you get the nicknames like “Bossy bitch” “steamroller” in your workplace? Or are you polite to a fault and are wondering about how you could be a bit more outspoken without being rude?

This article is about how you could be professionally assertive without seeming as rude. But first, we need to differentiate the two. Even though both sometimes get confusing, the not-so-fine line between the two is easy to identify.

What is considered rude behavior?

Rudeness is behaving in a mean, aggressive, and socially unacceptable way and physically or verbally attacking the other person for their opinion, appearance, lifestyle, belief, choice, activities, and so on. When someone is yelling, threatening, or using abusive language and gestures during an argument or conversation, that is usually considered rude behavior. It is a highly unprofessional, disrespectful, and unethical manner to behave in the workplace or even amongst peers. If you engage in one or more of these behaviors, then you have crossed the line from assertive to rude.

What is considered assertive or outspoken behavior?

Rude or outspoken

When someone puts forward their demand, disagreement, or argument in a clear, well-articulated manner without disrespecting or personally attacking other people, it is considered assertiveness. If you can speak up when you need to establish some clear boundaries expectations, express your opinion, agreement, or disagreement in a calm, authoritative manner without an emotional outburst or abusive or insulting behavior towards others, you are an assertive and outspoken person, and not a rude one. Even though sometimes these qualities can be criticized by colleagues or co-workers, they are not improper or impolite manners and are needed for making oneself be heard.

How can you be professionally assertive without being rude? 

If you are already considered strongly outspoken and receive comments on your assertiveness, you are on the right track. However, if you are not a talker or do not assert yourself often, people can take advantage of you or sometimes steamroll you into an uncomfortable situation. The following steps can help you become professionally assertive without coming across as rude to others.

1. Think about your boundaries and expectations

It is very important for you to have a clear idea of what you expect from others and what boundaries you want to set for yourself and your colleagues. So think about your standing, professional stance, boundaries, and expectations and decide what you want and what the behaviors and parameters are that you shall stick to. 

2. Express your boundaries, expectations in a clear well-articulated manner

RULE NUMBER ONE: Always try to see your clients in person because you can’t kiss their ___ over a computer… AND… RULE NUMBER TWO… If you don’t schmooze, you lose! (And if YOU don’t see your clients in person on a regular basis, someone else will…and you could possibly wind up losing some of those clients, even though you may have been doing a great job for them.) Copy: One of the most important things in any business is keeping your clients and customers…and keeping them happy. One of the other most important things in business is working well with your co-workers and keeping them happy, too. And, aside from always trying to do your best to do good work for them, and aside from always being straightforward and honest with your clients and co-workers, one of the most important things in business is to build a good working relationship with your clients and everyone you work with so they are comfortable working with you and trusting you. And for better ways of communicating with your clients and co-workers, here are some things to always keep in mind: 1) First, always keep in mind the age-old mantra of customer relations… “The customer is always right!” (Even if you think they’re wrong, figure out how to deal with it and then move on.) 2) If you’ve got good news to deliver…deliver it in person! 3) If you’ve got bad news to deliver…deliver it in person. Don’t text it. Don’t email it! And don’t ever send anything over the internet, and don’t put anything in writing that could embarrass you if it winds up on the Evening News…or even worse…in court! Got that? Be very careful what you say and whom you say it to…and always keep in mind another age-old mantra… “Loose lips sink ships!” Sub-head: So, is the success of your business and the success of your career at your company dependent on a lot of office politics? Absolutely YES! And, some of the first things you need to know wherever you work and whatever your job is…are things like… A) Who’s in charge, who does what, and who reports to whom? B) Plus, you need to know what your job is and how it gets evaluated. You also have to study office politics. (And try to keep your thoughts to yourself.) Plus, start reading up about your industry and your competition and learn as much as you can about everything related to your business because that knowledge and those skills will help you advance. Also, be on the lookout for opportunities at other companies because you may have to leave your current place of business to help you advance a lot faster! Other than that, do your best to do a good job and if you have any questions about anything, ask. NOW…HERE ARE SOME MORE RULES TO SUCCESS IN BUSINESS AND SUCCESS AT YOUR JOB: 1) Never do anything to endanger your clients! 2) Never do anything to endanger your boss! 3) And never do anything to endanger your job! Plus… 4) Don’t say anything stupid! 5) Don’t do anything stupid! 6) Don’t post anything stupid on the internet! 7) Don’t ever say anything racist or sexist or politically incorrect! 8) Never talk to the press, unless that’s your job! 9) Learn how to refer things to your management and their attorneys… 10) And don’t brag…Be humble…and more people will like you a lot more. Also, if you’re making a lot of money, don’t be in a hurry to show off your success. Take it easy on the jewelry and the clothing you might wear at the office. AND…GETTING BACK TO COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR CLIENTS AND ENTERTAINING YOUR CLIENTS… Here is a funny story about things to think about when entertaining your clients: Many years ago, I met a salesman who didn’t entertain his clients much after work. Generally, he would go straight home to his family. His sales were pretty good, so it was tough for the powers that be to get rid of him. Then, one day, some people in management told him that they wanted him to spend some more time entertaining his clients after work. So, he started to stay out late and entertain his clients a lot more, and a few months later, the same management people that didn’t like him in the first place said, “He’s not much of a family man,” and shortly after that, they fired him, even though his sales were very good. Politics…it’s all politics. In most cases, one person can do just as good a job as another, and to keep your job, learn how to navigate the office politics. And to keep your clients, learn how to navigate their office politics. And to keep your customers, learn how to navigate their politics. Also, read a lot of books about business. Read a lot of books about your industry. And one book that everyone should read immediately is Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It will stand you in good stead throughout your business life and throughout all your years. NOW…FOR COMMUNICATING BETTER WITH YOUR CLIENTS, CUSTOMERS, AND CO-WORKERS… 1) Remember…always try to see them in person as often as you can. 2) If you can’t see them in person, call them! Don’t just text them. Don’t just email them. See them in person. Talk to them in person. If you can’t see them in person because of Covid or for any other reason, call them. 3) Build a good working relationship with everyone you work with. Don’t argue! Don’t yell, and don’t ever curse at work! 4) Keep your nasty thoughts and comments to yourself… 5) And…learn how to master the arts of Flattery and to appeal to a person’s Vanity. Flattery and Vanity…Flattery and Vanity…They could become some of the keys to success in all that you do. 6) Also, always keep in touch with your past and present clients with holiday cards, birthday cards, and interesting bits of information as often and as appropriately as they occur. And always keep in mind rule Number One…See your clients, customers, and co-workers in person as often as you can because you can’t kiss their ___ over a computer, and if you don’t schmooze, you lose. Here’s wishing you the best of success in communicating better with your clients, customers, and co-workers!

Once you are clear about your opinions and professional ground, communicate them to others. You should be clear and articulate them firmly. Use words to tell them how you feel about a particular situation or behavior. Do not expect everyone to agree with you or to take your words kindly, but do not budge from your stand and do not apologize for speaking up.

3. Be firm but polite in an argument

When you have an argument, disagreement, or conflict of interest in your workplace, it is very easy to escalate into personal attacks and verbal abuse. Even if your colleague is driving you insane, use a firm but polite speech and keep your voice even and devoid of emotional outbursts. You will be taken much more seriously in that way.

4. Do not use abusive language, gestures, and manners

You are a responsible adult, so behave like one in your workplace. Even if you are in a sticky situation and losing your calm, do not use slang, abusive verbal or physical manners, and body language towards your colleagues. Always maintain your professional integrity and assert your feeling, opinion, and argument respectfully.

5. Never personally attack someone

Coffee And A Day At The Office: Does It Help?

When you are critiquing someone and calling them out on their improper behavior, bad manners, or professional setback, do not attack the person and instead provide constructive criticism to their activities by putting forward your feelings, thoughts, and ideas. For example, instead of saying ‘You are a lazy jerk’, try saying ‘I do not appreciate you leaving your task unfinished.’ 

6. Always stick to ‘I’ statements

Instead of using ‘you’ statements and focusing on the things one committed in a wrong or improper way, try using ‘I’ statements to let them know, how you feel about them doing something in a way that you found unethical or ill-mannered. In this way, your coworkers will feel less threatened and will not lash out after an accusation.  

7. Use acquiescing statements

When you find yourself at the focal point of an attack, personal abuse, or an accusation, do not confront the situation with antagonism. Try to placate the person by using acquiescing statements like “Yes, that might be true, but” or “Yes, your opinion might have merit, but”, and then put forward your own opinion or thoughts. 

8. Manage your stress, emotions, and body language

When you are dealing with a problem in the workplace, do not let your stress, frustration, tension, anger get the better of you. Watch your emotions, take a deep breath and manage them, so that your speech, tone, body language do not express your emotional turmoil and instead remain steady and authoritative. 

9. Do not compromise your professional opinion and standing

Even if you find yourself in a murky situation or in front of severe criticism or professional disagreement, stick to your professional ground and do not agree with or placate someone just to avoid a confrontation. If your thoughts, ideas, boundaries have been challenged, defend them firmly and do not compromise your professional standing. 

10. Repeat until you are heard 

When you are not heard inside the boardroom, during a meeting, or during conferences, repeat your phrases and words in a monotonous voice devoid of emotions until you are paid attention to and heard. Logically present your arguments and raise your voice only when it is necessary.

11. Do not beat around the bush

If you need to say something unsavory like a complaint or ask for something like a raise, a bonus, an increment, or participation in an interesting project, just be blunt and say it outright. Beating around the bush will only make you look indecisive and meek. So hold your head high, shoulders straight, and speak unapologetically without worrying.

It takes time and patience to be an assertive but well-mannered professional. Start small, practice these steps, and watch your behavior in the professional space. You will see the changes in no time and will garner appreciation and respect in the professional domain.

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Evia is pursuing her PhD and is trying to connect with people through her writing.

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