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Communications expert shares the 3 common phrases you may be using that come off as rude

Etiquette changes over time.

communications tips, john bowe, business communication

Coworkers having a communications problem.

It’s interesting how the little things we say in our day-to-day conversations can sometimes seem harsh, even without us meaning to be. Sometimes, even when trying to be friendly, we can say the wrong thing and come off as passive-aggressive or condescending.

John Bowe, a speech trainer, award-winning journalist, and author of “I Have Something to Say: Mastering the Art of Public Speaking in an Age of Disconnection,” recently wrote an article for CNBC on commonly heard phrases, especially in the professional world, that can unintentionally make us come off as rude or condescending.

Here are 3 of those phrases people commonly use that may be considered rude.


1. “Do you want to ...?”

“This phrase is great when you’re offering someone a choice (“Do you want to go to lunch with me?”). But as a way of delivering orders (“Do you want to take out the trash?”), its indirect fake-politeness comes across as belittling,” Bowe told CNBC.

He adds that it is more polite to state your request “directly.” If your spouse asked you to take out the trash, how would you like to be told?

“Will you do me a favor and take out the trash when you have a second?”

Or:

“Do you want to take out the trash?”

2. “Here’s the thing ...”

“This phrase insists that whatever follows will be the final, authoritative take on the subject at hand. Even when used inadvertently, it can sound a bit self-important. Truly authoritative people don’t tend to waste time on throat-clearing statements,” Bowe told CNBC.

When people give their opinion by starting with, “Here’s the thing…” they are making a declarative statement that what they have to say is the objective truth. When, in reality, they are probably just sharing an opinion. By making a declarative statement, they are pumping themselves up while also diminishing the opinions of others.

As Chris Illuminati humorously points out in Brobible, there is “no specific thing.” People say “Here’s the thing” to introduce a fact or observation, but the phrase serves no purpose. One could easily lead with the fact or observation without the unnecessary puffery.

3. “Obviously ...”

“This word subtly or not-so-subtly conveys that anyone disagreeing with the speaker is wrong. Even if you don’t realize it, using it can make you seem arrogant,” Bowe writes.

Dianna Booher, founder and CEO of Dallas-based communication firm Booher Research Institute, agrees. “It sounds as though the writer is pointing out that the information that follows should be obvious, but you, the reader, are not smart enough to grasp it,” Booher tells Monster.

Sometimes, it can be hard to know how we are coming off to other people. The best way to find out if we're being rude, arrogant, or belittling is to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and ask ourselves, “How would I feel if someone spoke to me that way?” It’s also good to record ourselves in meetings or on the phone from time to time to make sure that we are communicating as effectively and politely as we can.

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From political science to joining the fight against cancer: How one woman found her passion

An unexpected pivot to project management expanded Krystal Brady's idea of what it means to make a positive impact.

Krystal Brady/PMI

Krystal Brady utilizes her project management skills to help advance cancer research and advocacy.

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Cancer impacts nearly everyone’s life in one way or another, and thankfully, we’re learning more about treatment and prevention every day. Individuals and organizations dedicated to fighting cancer and promising research from scientists are often front and center, but we don’t always see the people working behind the scenes to make the fight possible.

People like Krystal Brady.

While studying political science in college, Brady envisioned her future self in public office. She never dreamed she’d build a successful career in the world of oncology, helping cancer researchers, doctors and advocates continue battling cancer, but more efficiently.

Brady’s journey to oncology began with a seasonal job at a small publishing company, which helped pay for college and awakened her love for managing projects. Now, 15 years later, she’s serving as director of digital experience and strategy at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), which she describes as “the perfect place to pair my love of project management and desire to make positive change in the world.”

As a project manager, Brady helps make big ideas for the improvement of diagnosing and treating cancer a reality. She is responsible for driving the critical projects that impact the lives of cancer researchers, doctors, and patients.

“I tell people that my job is part toolbox, part glue,” says Brady. “Being a project manager means being responsible for understanding the details of a project, knowing what tools or resources you need to execute the project, and facilitating the flow of that work to the best outcome possible. That means promoting communication, partnership, and ownership among the team for the project.”

At its heart, Brady’s project management work is about helping people. One of the big projects Brady is currently working on is ASCO’s digital transformation, which includes upgrading systems and applications to help streamline and personalize oncologists’ online experience so they can access the right resources more quickly. Whether you are managing humans or machines, there’s an extraordinary need for workers with the skillset to harness new technology and solve problems.

The digital transformation project also includes preparing for the use of emerging technologies such as generative AI to help them in their research and practices.

“Most importantly, it lays the groundwork for us to make a meaningful impact at the point of care, giving the oncologist and patient the absolute latest recommendations or guidelines for care for that specific patient or case, allowing the doctor to spend more time with their patients and less time on paperwork,” Brady says.

In today’s fast-changing, quickly advancing world, project management is perhaps more valuable than ever. After discovering her love for it, Brady earned her Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification through Project Management Institute (PMI)—the premier professional organization for project managers with chapters all over the world—which she says gave her an edge over other candidates when she applied for her job at ASCO.

“The knowledge I gained in preparing for the PMP exam serves me every day in my role,” Brady says. “What I did not expect and have truly come to value is the PMI network as well – finding like-minded individuals, opportunities for continuous learning, and the ability to volunteer and give back.”

PMI’s growing community – including more than 300 chapters globally – serves as a place for project managers and individuals who use project management skills to learn and grow through events, online resources, and certification programs.

While people often think of project management in the context of corporate careers, all industries and organizations need project managers, making it a great career for those who want to elevate our world through non-profits or other service-oriented fields.

“Project management makes a difference by focusing on efficiency and outcomes, making us all a little better at what we do,” says Brady. “In almost every industry, understanding how to do our work more effectively and efficiently means more value to our customers, and the world at large, at an increased pace.”

Project management is also a stable career path in high demand as shown by PMI research, which found that the global economy will need 25 million more project managers by 2030 and that the median salary for project managers in the US has grown to $120K.

If you’d like to learn more about careers in project management, PMI has resources to help you get started or prove your proficiency, including its entry-level Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification program. For those interested in pursuing a project management career to make a difference, it could be your first step.


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