"Speaking Up: What to Say to Your Boss and Everyone Else Who Gets on Your Case," Mark Ruskin

Pros: Well-written; brilliant ideas; extremely well-balanced; straightforward; easy-to-learn format
Cons: Not a one!
Rating: 5 out of 5

First posted 5/4/2005
Review book courtesy of Adams Media.

Do you ever have trouble speaking up for yourself? Do you ever have to deal with difficult people? Do you ever get into shouting matches with co-workers, feel intimidated by your boss, feel flummoxed by bad service at a restaurant? Are you not sure how to disagree with someone without making them feel attacked? Do you have trouble handling criticism or asking for a promotion? Then you need a copy of Mark Ruskin’s “Speaking Up: What to Say to Your Boss and Everyone Else Who Gets on Your Case.”

No, scratch that. You need a copy period, no matter how you answered the above questions.


The book starts out with some general points on how your feelings affect your dealings with others, matters of timing, and some basic rules of thumb about handling difficult exchanges. Then it moves on to dealing with your boss, a topic I expect many people will most want help with. It deals with 6 different types of difficult boss and how to handle each (the tyrant, guilt monger, blamer, dreamer, bumbler, emotional volcano), then moves on to various situations: getting hired, getting a raise or promotion, promoting an idea or project, extending a deadline, accepting or declining an assignment, accepting a compliment or criticism, handling accidents and errors (whether or not they’re your errors), handling the rejection of your negotiation for a raise, quitting, and getting fired.

I believe that this extensive section is useful also for bosses, not just for employees–it’s easy to reverse-engineer many of these suggestions to find ways to more effectively handle your employees.

The other part of the book deals with “everyone else” and aims to help you deal with other people who might intimidate you, or with whom you might have difficulties. It also deals with situations where you might just want to know how to get the most out of your communications with someone. It covers accountants, salespeople, mechanics, bill collectors, coworkers, contractors, customer complaint workers, doctors and dentists, your child’s teacher, IRS auditors, landlords, lawyers, neighbors, police, waitstaff, wine snobs, and more.


The format of this book is designed to be very non-threatening to the casual reader. It’s meant to be simple and easy to absorb. Each section starts out with some talk about the type of person or interaction and the sorts of problems that can arise. This is followed by a list of words to use, phrases to use, words to avoid, and phrases to avoid. I think this is very handy–words can come loaded with all sorts of emotional connotations, and it’s true that some words and phrases can make things worse or better. By listing such things out Ruskin gives us a toolbox from which to construct our own solutions to problems.

Next the entry provides a sample script for handling the situation along with a few words about how the scenario might proceed. This is followed by responses to anticipate and how you might reply to them.

Why everyone needs a copy of this book

This is not only the most well-thought-out book on handling dealings with other people that I’ve ever seen, but it’s better than I’ve ever imagined as well. It teaches you how to take frustrating and even potentially explosive situations and turn them into productive attempts to solve problems and move forward.

There are several things in particular that impress me about this book:

It truly encourages you to work to solve problems. It would be easier to simply teach you to say the right things, but this book goes further than that. It encourages you to work hard to solve problems in a way that will make you and those around you happy, or at least satisfied. It explains things so you’ll understand why people respond the way they do in certain situations.

It makes things straightforward and easy. There are no in-depth psychological discussions, although you can tell this man truly knows what he’s doing in that area. There are no treatises on interpersonal relations, although again, you can tell that Ruskin really does know his stuff. He also knows when to give a few simple instructions and let them speak for themselves.

The book encourages wonderful approaches to teamwork, standing up for yourself, and so on. It teaches you not to take abuse lying down, but it also shows you that things such as criticism and owning up to your mistakes are important:

For you should not let criticism roll off your back. You should not armor yourself against it. You should not ignore it. Negative though it is, you should accept criticism as an opportunity. How? Please entertain the following notion: All criticism, even unmerited criticism, is useful to you.

He then goes on to explain how you can use even unmerited criticism as an opportunity for learning and developing a better relationship with others.

I could go on for a while about this book, but hopefully I’ve already made my case. This is a truly useful book, and it encourages attitudes that could make any workplace or household easier–if not downright pleasant–to be in. It’s one of those rare books that I find myself wanting to give to everyone around me to read.

Postscript: There’s a point in here that the author makes when he talks about dealing with tyrannical bosses that seems obvious when stated, but which I found revelatory for various reasons:

Verbal violence is always a symbol of physical threat.

At the time Ruskin was using this to explain why it is we feel so intimidated by bosses who bully us, even though we know full well they aren’t going to hit us. But what this made me think of is all those people I’ve run into who can’t comprehend why verbal abuse can be traumatizing to children, and who say things like, “but he didn’t hit her, so what’s the big deal?” Someone who lives with verbal abuse lives with the constant fear of physical abuse, even if intellectually they know they aren’t going to be hit and even if no one ever directly touches them. And living in that kind of constant fear is extremely traumatic.

Anyway, I’m getting off-topic. My point is, the author displays an incredible amount of insight into how the human mind and emotions work, and he puts that to amazing use in teaching the reader to better handle difficult situations. So get a copy of this book today.

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