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As an IT guy in a college, I was helping a professor with his phone problems. After I was done helping him, I told him “you can go now.” to end the interaction as I had another student waiting for my help. He told me I was rude because that’s what he usually told his students (after the end of a class to dismiss them I suppose?).

That caught me off guard. I thought I meant “problems solved! Feel free to leave”. I was in a hurry and didn’t look at him when I said that. I don’t know if it’s me sounding monotone when I said that. Does this sentence sound inherently rude or is it because of my intonation, body language or his perceived relationship with me (that I’m supposed to be the one with lower “status”?)

If it does sound rude, what can I say instead to end an interaction like that in person and on phone?

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    Potentially very rude, whatever the intonation. When signalling that you wish to end a conversation or meeting, it is important to avoid rudeness. You should probably ask this in the Interpersonal Skills Stack Exchange site. Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 12:51
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    Why the downvote? I think that this is a useful question.
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 13:11
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    Wait, he said it was rude and it is what he usually tells his students? So… then… what does that make him? Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 17:02
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    Note the phrase that you used here to clarify that you had no ill intention ("Feel free to leave") is also potentially quite rude and I would strongly recommend against using it.
    – Pilcrow
    Commented Nov 5, 2023 at 16:57
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    @mathdummies it's not about the "feel free to" part. "feel free to contact me" is perfectly fine. But it's about the "leave" part. When you say "feel free to leave" you really are saying "I'm giving you permission to leave" or it's even implied as "I want you to leave". As if you are the one making that decision. As if you are in command. It's a bit dominating and therefore rude
    – Ivo
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 8:16

8 Answers 8

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Independent IT consultant here, which means, I know the customer support hustle.

I don't think what you said is inherently rude, but neither do I think it would be a stretch for some to construe it that way. In some circumstances it might be taken as a little dismissive, or overly informal by someone accustomed to being treated with extra respect. I would probably save "you can go" for those people who it's safe for you to kid around with. It might sort of carry the connotation (even if jokingly) that the person needs your permission to go.

There's lots of ways you can end a support interaction, even enphasizing that you're busy, while still being unquestionably polite.

Before I suggest a few, bear in mind that inflection, facial expression, body language, etc, do matter, and anything at all can be made rude or polite depending on those.

That said: with a proper demeanor, I can pull any of the below off, and you should be able to to. Also remember: Fully half of being a service provider of any sort, especially in tech, is psychology. Part of providing good service is, you want them to feel like you're there at their service. Remembering that is probably more important than choice of words.

I would say you want to communicate three things to wrap up a support call in a way that leaves the client satisfied: first, you say something that confirms the task is finished, then an inquiry to make sure they agree it's done and don't feel you're leaving them still needing any help. Then, finally, let them know you're available if they need you again. This is how I do things.

So, the first two would be something like:

"I do have another appointment waiting. Is there anything else I can help you with?" (Note how this one is emphatic, even businesslike, but not rude.)

"Ok! That's all working now. Have we gotten everything you need taken care of?"

"I do have to rush off. Are we all good?" (Note: "Are we all good" is a very informal turn of phrase, but, in all but very formal situations, can probably be gotten away with, especially if you know the person casually and can already speak somewhat informally with them.)

Or just combine the first two thoughts with a succinct, "Ok, is there anything else I can do for you?" That tells them "I think we're done, but I want to make sure you're satisfied."

For the third and closing part, be sure to conclude with an emphatic, "Please call me immediately if there's anything else I can do for you" or "call me immediately if you think of any questions." This should be carried out with an air like you consider it your job to be at their disposal. Even if it's not, people like feeling that way. The key component in all of these, you might notice, is that you're placing their needs as the most important priority, no matter what. I believe that actively communicating that is the key thing to bear in mind.

I do have one more thought about your interaction. Since you're posting this here in "English language learners", I assume there's something of a language barrier involved. I think a lot of people will be a little understanding of people from other cultures or non-native speakers perhaps coming across rude simply out of unfamiliarity with what's (somewhat arbitrarily, really) considered polite or not in different places, and he may have been trying to be helpful to you–not saying you were rude because he took offense, but rather, just out of understanding that as an English learner you may not have all the Ps and Qs (that's a colloquialism for good manners) yet, and he may just have been trying to do you a favor by offering you some guidance, letting you know that other people might potentially interpret it that way. It could depend strongly on his inflection.

I would say if you're very clearly still an English learner in your spoken interactions, if he was sincerely offended, he'd be the rude one for not cutting you some slack that you deserved.

I learned this the hard way, visiting England at 14, and seeing the expression on my elderly and very prim hostess's face when, during a visit for tea time in her living room, I joked around with a fellow tourist using a word I'd just heard for the first time that day: I called someone a "wanker". Suffice to say: it was a faux pas!

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  • Thank you so much for the detailed response! I appreciate that you break down each component so I don’t have to follow a canned response. The professor was taken aback and left shortly after. Thank god he didn’t file a complaint. I still cringe thinking about this interaction. Not really related to this question, do you have any learning resources recommended for people like us in roles like this? Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 6:30
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    @mathdummies No prob, always happy to drone on about my experience for a bit. Yeah, it's not so much about knowing canned responses as cultivating a "I'm only here to serve & support this person" attitude while on the job (you have my permission to be a total a--hole outside of work, that's what I do.) Unfortunately, I don't know any learning resources on this other than life: make the mistakes, learn from them, share experiences to learn/teach others. I feel for you, I hate that cringey regret feeling, I've sure felt it! Maybe seek redemption from reddit.com/r/AmItheAsshole ;-p
    – John Smith
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 23:22
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"You can/may go now" is what a high-status person would say to a low-status one, implying "You came here at my command, and you now have my permission to leave". The professor (a high-status role in an academic community) had come to you so that you could do your job of helping him, so it wasn't your place to dismiss him. A polite way to end the interaction would have been to ask "Is there anything else I can do for you?" or, more informally, "Is that OK?"

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    "Is there anything else I can do for you?" - an excellent suggestion. Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 13:06
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    For a polite but more decisive option (not tossing it back to the other person to answer yes/no), something like "great to see it's working now, please let me know if you need anything else" also works
    – TylerW
    Commented Nov 5, 2023 at 0:08
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    I would precede the "anything else?" question with "Looks to me like we've fixed <problem X>." That creates the conversational space for you two to agree that their problem was in fact solved, or for them to let you know that they still have some issue(s) with it.
    – JonathanZ
    Commented Nov 5, 2023 at 0:28
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    @Thierry In relation to the students, at least. It's the professor that gives the students permission to leave and not the other way around. Though as the students get older, e.g. post-secondary, the relation gets more equilateral.
    – JoL
    Commented Nov 5, 2023 at 2:51
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    Exactly this, you are giving a person your permission to leave, and the implications is that the person cannot leave without it. This is a stock phrase in BBC costume drama for setting up a person as being aloof and condescending. Commented Nov 5, 2023 at 14:35
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Yes, it sounds rude. It indicates that you are giving him permission to leave, as if he was your servant who was required to come when summoned and then dismissed when you no longer wanted him around.

It's a common problem in English how you say that you want to end the conversation without sounding rude.

Customer service people have adopted a standard "end of conversation" statement of, "Is there anything else I can help you with?" This is a polite way of saying that the present interaction is complete. The expected response is, "No, thank you" or something of that sort and the person hangs up. If the person really does want something else, you give him the opportunity to say so.

People often make some excuse to end a conversation. From a simple and vague, "Well, I have to go now" to something more specific, like, "I'm sorry but I have a doctor appointment at 2 o'clock." Which may or may not be true.

In a case like this, you could say something like, "I think that should fix your problem. Is it working for you now?" At which point the professor would likely say, "Yes, it's working. Thanks." and leave.

But anyway, key point: Avoid saying something that sounds like you're giving the other person permission to leave. This is really only appropriate if you are his boss and you just finished reprimanding him, or similar situations.

Follow on thought: Only case I can think of where it wouldn't be rude would be if the other person was in some position where they were NOT allowed to leave, and you now give them permission. Like you are a police officer and this person has been arrested, and then you say, "Charges have been dropped. You are free to leave now." Something of that sort.

Later thought: Sometimes when there is paperwork you have to do, or you are or might be expected to pay for some service, then when all this is done someone will say, "You're free to go." Most often I hear this at doctor's offices. In this case they really are giving you permission. Like, you've done all the required paperwork, so now you are allowed to leave.

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    I'd go as far as saying it comes across as telling/requiring them to leave rather than giving permission. Commented Nov 5, 2023 at 22:29
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    @DavidWaterworth - agreed, "you can go now" will usually be interpreted as "go now"... not as permission, but as an instruction. Commented Nov 5, 2023 at 22:50
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    @DavidWaterworth Or even ordering them to leave. Sure. Whether it's ordering them to leave or giving them permission to leave, either way it's presumptuous and would come across as rude.
    – Jay
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 12:39
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can is a word with several meanings. In the set phrase "you can go now", can means that you are giving somebody permission to go. This definitely sounds rude if you are not in a position of authority over that person. I wouldn't even consider saying it to an employee.

If you want a similar expression that means "problem solved", you can say "you are good to go". This sounds similar, but it means that the person is now fully equipped to start or restart doing something.

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    +1 although I'd probably prefer "You're good to go" (without "now").
    – TripeHound
    Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 21:35
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    For what it's worth, I always interpreted the word "go" in the phrase "good to go" as meaning "go ahead with an activity, proceed to do something," rather than "leave this place and go somewhere else." I would break the phrase "good to go" down by saying that "good" means "in an appropriate state," "to" means "for the purpose of," and "go" means "perform the intended activity." Commented Nov 5, 2023 at 0:59
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    @TripeHound "Good to go" is the set phrase: there's no particular reason why you can't add "now" after it, but I have now removed it for the sake of clarity.
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Nov 5, 2023 at 7:36
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    @TannerSwett That is my understanding too. Obviously my use of the phrase "free to leave because..." was confusing, so I have removed it.
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Nov 5, 2023 at 7:40
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    Personally I don't think adding "now" at the end changes anything. I would not interpret it as rude. I guess it varies depending on who you're talking to and the context.
    – David Z
    Commented Nov 5, 2023 at 22:17
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The trouble is that "You can go now" (or similar phrasing) sounds like an only-slightly-softened variation on "Get out." It's not assuring the person that you're done; it sounds like you're ordering them to leave. And even if it were being used to indicate the end of a transaction, it's taking a position of authority and informing the other person that they can go now (meaning they could not leave before) -- for example, if a police officer stops you, you need his permission to leave, so "you may go" is appropriate. As a service provider, you don't want to sound like you're giving orders or assuming a role of authority.

There are a few ways to do this that won't be rude. "Have a nice day!" is probably the most common way to signal that you're through with this transaction. Something like "Okay, that should do it. Here's your phone. Have a nice day!"

Alternatively, you can ask "Is there anything else I can help you with?" which indicates this job is complete and they can either ask for another or say thank you and leave.

As a variation on that, you could say "Let me know if I can help you with anything else." That doesn't require an answer, but it indicates we're done here and if you want to start a new transaction, you're free to.

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This has already been answered really well by many folks above, but I'll add a couple of observations.

Yes, it sounds incredibly rude. I wouldn't use that phrasing regardless of context; it's not an English language issue, it's a social awareness issue. It is rude enough that it (in some variant) has been often used for comedic effect, typically by characters which are abusing their authority (police, bad bosses, or the like).

A couple of general purpose non-rude ways to end a conversation:

  • If you need to go: "I have to go/run/have to take another call/have to go do X" (it helps if you do that with a bit of advance notice, "I'll have to run in five minutes/in a few minutes"). This makes it clear that it is you that needs this, explains why (if you want - you can be vague), and gives a timeframe.
  • If you're concerned that they will need to go: "I don't want to keep you too long/don't want to take up your time, do you want to keep talking/keep going?". That makes it clear that you're okay with talking longer; it's about them, but you're not deciding for them, you're checking in to see what they want.

The difference is: if you need something, say that you need it; if you want to know what they want, ask. If you need them to do something (rather than just you need to do something), you have to soften that from a command to a request, in most contexts. If you have a guest at home, "Get out" (command) is extremely rude; "I need you to go" is quite rude; "You can leave now" is about equally rude; "Hey, sorry, could you please head out soon? I need to get started on my homework" (request+explanation) is probably the least polite form which would ever be normally used. "I need to go soon" (what you're doing) is okay; "I need to go pick up my kids from school" (what you're doing+explanation) is normal.

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    Hi Alex, thank you for explaining how to frame your needs so that it comes across as polite. Very useful to me! Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 3:20
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It does seem rude given the context. "You can go now," implies either a certain level of formal control that is not present in a customer support situation.

A professor can say this to his students because it is a formal relationship in which the student is subordinate to the professor.

A professor can say this to their class, because students in a class are expected to remain until dismissed. Indeed if a professor does not explicitly dismiss his class, then students may remain seated wondering what to do next. I have personally witnessed this one or twice as a student.

It's actually a pretty amusing situation, because the professor forgets, and is confused as to why everyone is still sitting around.

In a customer service situation, the rep is generally considered subordinate to the requestor. Saying "you can go now" sounds like you're attempting to assert dominance/that you're being condescending.

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The existing answers are very good, but I'd like to add that something that can make a statement seem rude is lack of segue and opening for the other person to respond. That is, you did something together with your client (fixed their problem), and then abruptly changed the topic (time to leave). Besides the class or service mindset stuff mentioned in the other answers, an abrupt change of topic can confuse or upset the person you are trying to communicate with. Consider this example without the customer service aspect:
Person 1: "What did you think of the game last night?"
Person 2: "It was fine. I have to go."

Because Person 2 does not provide a segue, it comes off rude because Person 1 is missing information and has to fill in the gaps. When you don't fill in the gaps, the other person can easily assume the worst intentions. In this case, it could mean that:

  1. Person 2 does not care that Person 1 should understand what is going on.
  2. Person 2 is eager to get away from Person 1.

In your specific situation, instead of "You can go now," I might say, "Now that your problem is resolved, I think you should be all set to go. Do you need anything else before I go?" Notice that this:

  1. Adds context to explain very explicitly that you believe your interaction is complete ("you are all set") and why ("your problem is resolved")
  2. Requests buy-in from the other person on your proposal.

As other answers have stated, polite communication is a two-way street between equals. This means that there should be a back and forth, a proposal and request for buy-in from one party, and then agreement from the other party. If the other party does not have a chance to agree or disagree, then there has not really been communication between two people, only an announcement from one. The goal is to make the other person feel included in the decision-making.

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  • Hi thank you for your response. Now I can see how it’s rude regardless of the language aspect. It’s the dismissiveness my sentence conveyed. Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 5:06

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