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I Don’t Buy The Idea That Women Need to Enforce ‘Positive Rudeness’ to Succeed

Jan 26, 2021

"Positive rudeness."

It's a concept written about by journalist Rebecca Reid, and it suggests that a woman be more assertive. Which, as a suggestion, isn't really that flawed. 

But as I read more about “positive rudeness,” one key message is becoming clear to me: nice women finish last. 

I've read that being too apologetic, soft or nice is detrimental to women in the business world. And, ultimately, apparently women aren’t assertive enough, and try to soften requests by injecting words like “just,” “wondering” and “if you don’t mind.”

Vanessa Magic is a mother who also believes in the power of teaching kindness, especially now. Read that here.

Women are also allegedly more prone to apologizing unnecessarily.

Evidently this has lead to women not being perceived as effective, decisive or worthy of promotions of power. As such, women have been advised to take a no-nonsense, "positive rudeness" approach. 

But I have to wonder, whether in the business world or parenting sphere, what’s so wrong with being nice?

I'm Going to Be Nice

Here’s the deal. In my opinion, I think we are still impacted by a scarcity of compassion and kindness. I don't think that all of the problems facing society are due to a deficit of empathy and niceness. But neither do I think that women need to be apologetic about making requests in the workplace.

Isn’t there a way to be emotionally intelligent without being a pushover? 

I ask because I think it’s relevant to parenting as well — not just in how we can parent our kids, but in teaching them to be effective in their jobs and careers. In parenting, and in business, I think that emotions can’t just be tucked away, never to be considered or dealt with.

The world needs compassionate people to lead, work, parent and contribute. I want to teach my kids that they don’t need to sell themselves short in life, but they have to be decent people. Being aggressive or yelling at people may sometimes provide short-term results, but such strategies do little to build long-term trust and loyalty. That’s as true in the corporate world as it was in kindergarten.

"Ask yourself, would you tell your kid that the only way to show dominance on the playground is to belittle someone in front of a group of other kids?"

I desire to be heard, and I want my kids to be heard, but not at the expense of resorting to cruel tactics. I'm not suggesting that women bend to the whims of assertive men by placating with false niceties, because that won't resolve anything. But I do think a cultural shift needs to occur, and I'm hoping a more kindness-forward approach, and not flexing to take up space, could benefit everyone involved. 

I want my kids — and everyone, actually — to ask themselves: “If I need to be an as—le to be successful, do I really want that success? Do I want to attend a school, be in a circle of friends, or work for a company in which success and cruelty are intertwined?”

Ask yourself, would you tell your kid that the only way to show dominance on the playground is to belittle someone in front of a group of other kids? Wouldn't everyone be having a better time if those kids weren't under the impression that showy displays of power were the pathway to success, leadership and adoration? I know there's an engrained Darwinian truth at play that would seem to refute my beliefs, because the "fittest" has been for so long aligned with "strength" and the focus of what strength is has taken on many different forms. But despite the varied interpretations of natural selection, I'm interested in a more positive model of strength, where there is less of an instinct to elbow our way in front of someone else. A place where success can be shared and enjoyed.

Looking for a craft that will also brighten up the neighbourhood? Try these kindness rocks.

A Case for Kindness

Kindness may not be valued in some families or workplaces, but it is a key consideration in an area that touches all of our lives: health care. My father is a doctor and has talked to many young people hoping to apply to med school.

I remember one such conversation. My dad asked what this high school grad was interested in, and she talked about her favourite subjects in school. “I like physics, math and design technologies,” she shared. My dad listened carefully, and then asked, kindly, “But do you like people?” Above assertiveness, positive rudeness or drive, med schools and health care recognize that kindness, empathy and a genuine interest and love for people are required to truly excel as a health care provider.

This is a great lesson for kids, who might one day wonder if the emphasis in early life on emotional and social learning was worth it (it is, share your toys and your goodwill).

It’s also an important lesson for humans in general.

I’ve had the occasion to see niceness win big time. One of my family members is the epitome of kindness. That’s just who she is. She doesn’t act that way to get anything, or because she’s supposed to. It’s simply woven into the fabric of her being.

"She is the recipient of smiles, gifts and confidences. She has had wonderful jobs and a thriving career."

Because she is naturally so warm and open, she’s the person the front-desk staff calls when there is a cancellation for an overbooked specialist, jumping her up the list by months. She’s the one who always has the inside information from her kids’ school. She gets the upgrades in restaurants, hotels and flights. She is the recipient of smiles, gifts and confidences. She has had wonderful jobs and a thriving career.

Is it because she has finely honed her positive rudeness? No.

It’s because her kindness and innate goodness spills over to others. I’ve seen it reflected in her children, who are well on their way to being the same type of magical human who can achieve great things and inspire compassion in others.

Ella Cooper designed an anti-oppression activity to help teach kids to love themselves and others. Find out how that's done here.

A test of two models

I recently tried out two different advocacy styles myself. I had chosen to help my young child with a customer service issue, and at first I tried "positive rudeness." I was firm. I didn’t back down. I was results-focused.

I got absolutely nowhere with this approach.

The next time, I took the time to be kind and to understand where the other side was coming from. I listened, and made requests without demands. I implemented a people-first approach. And this company knocked it out of the park, over-delivering with joy. Their reaction filled us with happiness. It was a regular love fest, and it taught my kids and I something really important: kindness does win, even if we are led to believe that it can be construed as a sign of weakness.

These days, I’m not too concerned if I add a “please” to my emails or conversations. I’m focused on being both efficient and empathetic, and hope my kids realize that both are possible.

Article Author Janice Quirt
Janice Quirt

Read more from Janice here.

Janice Quirt is a writer who moved from the big city to Orangeville in 2014 and never looked back, claiming a need to take the scenic route through life. Her blended family includes five kids, a wildly overgrown garden and a whole lot of coffee. Janice cherishes creative writing as a treat, right up there with overstuffed tacos, '80s mixed tapes and walks on beaches scattered with dunes. 

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