Skills For Your New Career: Be Polite Without Being a Pushover


In the office, people often equate politeness with being a pushover. It’s tough for even the most seasoned professionals to walk the line between being nice and letting themselves get steamrolled by others.

In order to be successful in today’s hyper-competitive work environments, you need to strike the perfect balance of being polite and likeable, but still being assertive. Here’s how you can get what you want at work by being polite and friendly without being a pushover:

Mind your manners

Good manners go a long way in negotiations and tough conversations. If you are having a heated discussion or talking about a sensitive topic, having good manners can soften the blow and make sure you don’t come across as too aggressive.

Please and thank you are always best practices in all business interactions. Be mindful that you don’t interrupt, cut people off, or talk over others in meetings when trying to get a point across. If you’re having a hard time getting your voice heard in a discussion, try saying “I just have something to add to that when you’re finished”.

This will let people know that you have something to say, and they can come back to you once they are done speaking. Checking your phone or email while someone is talking is a major no-no as well.

Depending on your relationship with the other party, it’s usually polite to ask how their day is going, what they are working on, or ask about weekend plans. Having a short non-work related conversation shows that you care about the other person and can make your business conversations a lot more pleasant.

Body language

Actions speak louder than words, and in the workplace, often what you don’t say is a lot more powerful than what you do say. Watch out for negative body language like crossed arms, pursed lips, or hand on hips to name a few.

Body language like hunched shoulders, hanging head, and not making eye contact convey low confidence, and make you an easy target for people to discount your opinions. These behaviours are usually unconscious, so you need to be hyper-aware of your body in important situations.

Keep track of your triggers

We all lose our cool once in a while. It’s important to note these times and see if you have the same triggers time and time again. Come up with a plan for the next time that trigger arises, with a more positive and polite response.

For example, if it drives you crazy when people critique your ideas without offering an alternative, your usual response is to snap back with a “Well, I don’t see you coming up with anything better!”. Knowing that this is a behaviour that really bothers you, plan so that next time it happens you stop and take a breath, and say “Yes I can definitely see what you mean. Do you have an idea of what I can do to fix that?” This is a good strategy to help you remain polite, while getting your point across and reaching a resolution.

Take it offline

It’s important to know when to take a step back and move a conversation to another time. For example, if you’re in a group meeting, and are getting stuck on one point with another individual, suggest setting up another time for the two of you to discuss it further. Taking the discussion offline is a good way to make sure you can have a productive conversation once you’ve both had time to cool off and think more about the situation. This is a good way to make sure you are being respectful of the group’s time, as well as of the other individual.

Opt for face-to-face interactions

In-person communications are always preferable to email. Not only are email chains ineffective and a major time-waster, but they also lack the intonation that conveys your emotions. Emails often sound much more severe or rude than if you were saying the same thing in person. With more people writing work emails on their phones, emails have a tendency to sound a bit more short and terse. On the flip side, if you tend to be too polite, and say yes to every request, it’s easy for people to take advantage of you. It’s difficult for people to know if you are feeling overwhelmed or if they have given you too much to do.

If you do have to engage in an email back-and-forth, make sure you are conscious of your tone. Depending on your workplace culture and who you are talking to, a few (well placed!) emojis can always lighten up the tone as well. Don’t be an email pushover though – be clear if you have too much on your plate and cannot accommodate a request.

How do you balance being “polite” and being a “pushover”? Share your advice in the comments!

About the author

Celine Tarrant is a recent Queen’s Commerce graduate who successfully hatched her career at Walmart Canada in the D.A.R.E. new graduate rotational program. Outside of the office, you can find Celine out for a run, attempting handstands at her yoga studio, or experimenting with new (mostly) healthy recipes. She is a travel addict, non-fiction lover and podcast enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram to check out her most recent kitchen concoction, or connect with her on LinkedIn.