Let’s face it: we humans don’t always know the right things to say. Especially in touchy or awkward situations, coming up with the right words can be an elusive skill – and sometimes, the words we say can cause more damage than good. Are you a repeat offender? How often do you say the phrases below? While there are always exceptions, let’s try to banish the following phrases that may be well meaning but often have the opposite effect.
- “You look tired.”
No one likes to hear this. If you look tired, you probably already know it. You don’t need someone else bringing up the fact that you are presenting an exhausted version of your face to the world.
- “Let me know if there is anything that I can do.”
You may truly care, but for someone who needs help – it can be very difficult to figure out what kind of help that is. Plus, this phrase puts the impetus on the person who needs helping to be proactive. Instead, offer a specific action, like watching the kids on Thursday or bringing lunch over on Saturday.
- “You look great for your age.”
This backhanded compliment just leaves the recipient feeling old. It’s much better to just say, “You look great.” Period. No qualifier needed.
- “Have you tried yoga/organic food/chia seeds/positive thinking [for your serious health condition]?
While yoga may have revolutionized your life, someone suffering from a disease or chronic condition doesn’t want to hear that all they need to do to beat cancer is to think positive. You may be trying to help, but it sounds like you are blaming the patient’s personal choices for their condition. If they ask you for health advice, feel free to offer it – otherwise, your presence is enough.
- “It can’t get any worse/The worst is over.”
How do you know? If you are living and breathing, it can always get worse.
- “That’s just my luck.”
Deciding that you have bad luck is a horrible idea. Sh*t happens to everyone, but if you believe that it happens to you because of your uniquely bad luck – you’ll only attract more bad luck in the future in order to prove yourself right.
- “It is God’s plan.”
Religious values may give you strength in tough times, but your friend doesn’t need to hear that her tough times are pre-ordained by God. If you’re in a difficult situation and don’t know what else to say, this always works: “I am sorry you are going through this. I am here for you.”
- “That happens to a lot of people. Why are you so upset about it?”
You’re probably trying to minimize the situation, and you may even be right that it happens to a lot of people. But it just feels like you are making light of the person’s emotions – and telling them how they should or shouldn’t feel.
- “How did you get that scar?”
If someone has an obvious scar, they’ve probably explained it a million times – and it’s probably none of your business. Don’t bring up a painful subject. If you are close friends, sooner or later they will bring it up to you.
- “Calm down.”
Have these two words ever calmed anyone down in the history of the universe? If you want someone to calm down, commanding them to do so will probably backfire. Instead, calm yourself down by talking slowly and more quiet, and by maintaining a relaxed body posture. They will start to mimic you.
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