Our Words Affect Our Conversations: 5 words to avoid

by Feb 7, 2018

Our choice of words can infuriate, irritate, annoy, calm, appease, comfort or console others. Knowing how to choose the right words is a skill. Here I share with you the impact certain words have in our daily conversations. 

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” – Mark Twain

Most of the times when conflict arises, it’s unintentional. So much of our disagreements boil down to our choice of words when communicating. So by knowing which ordinary words and terms intensify negative emotions that generate conflict, we can avoid World War III at work and at home.

A few weeks ago I was driving my son and his friends to swim practice when my son says “Mom, please, you’re embarrassing me.” “What? What did I do? Why am I embarrassing you?” I asked. “Just kidding, you did not embarrass me at all.” [long silence] “With all due respect Mom, you are a good singer but please don’t sing in the car.” Oh. So there it was… “Just kidding… with all due respect… but…” The magic words that crushed me.

This may seem like a silly example as he is a kid, I am an adult and the event did not upset me. However, I am using this event as a learning opportunity. I know he did not mean to hurt my feelings and he probably even thought it was funny. The truth is, those ordinary words are used every day by most of us without much thought, and they can hurt people’s feelings. Our choice of words can cause unintentional hurt feelings. Hurt feelings can negatively impact relationships, our health, and performance at work.

What we say can sometimes trigger negative emotions that can lead to conflict. As we become more aware and skilled, we learn to avoid unnecessary conflict. In today’s post, I am giving you a list of 5 most common words or terms to avoid in conversations and what to say instead. (Enjoy the extra bonus).

  •  BUT – in my field, we call it “the great eraser” because it wipes out the positive statement and highlights the negative. We usually use BUT to introduce negative information. What to do? Use AND instead, and keep the conversation on the positive note:

Replace “I really like your work BUT your interaction with the clients could be better.” with “I really like your work, you are a great addition to our team AND by continually improving your interaction with our clients our customer service will always be the best.”

Replace “You did such good job honey, BUT you need to work on your strokes next time.” with “You did such a great job today, AND working on your strokes will make you even faster.”

Replace “You are a good singer mom, but please don’t sing in the car.” with “You are a great singer mom, AND how was your day?” See the difference?

  • WITH ALL DUE RESPECT – passive-aggressive saying that adds nothing to the conversation and it may upset the other person. when we hear those words, we don’t feel respected at all and it comes across as “I don’t really respect you or what you are saying at all”. We don’t always have to agree with one another but we must be respectful. Here are my suggestions:

“I respectfully disagree with you and here is why…” or

“I respectfully disagree with you. The way I see it …” or

“I get what you are saying. Here is what I think…“

  • YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND – this saying comes with the underlying meaning that we believe the other person is not capable of understanding what we are saying. It can come across as “you are dumb!” We are better off not using it at all. Instead, I suggest a plain and simple statement to clarify the ambiguity:

“What I meant was…” or

“It seems I did not make myself clear, what I meant was…“

“Let me rephrase that…”

  • WHATEVER – passive-aggressive collection of negative meanings. It can come across as “I don’t care about you or what you are saying. I just don’t care. You never get it. Period.” When there are different opinions we can say:

“Ok. I see that we have two strong, opposing opinions about…” or

“I know this subject is important for both of us, we can agree to disagree.”

However, if you need to come to a resolution, it is important to discuss it until you find common ground, instead of shoving it under the rug.

  • I WAS KIDDING/ I WAS JOKING – usually used after we said something we actually believe in but know we should not say anything or will get other people’s feelings hurt. As always, we should mean what we say and say what we mean, therefore, it should not be a joke, unless of course, it is a joke, in which case the other person will know it is a joke and you will all laugh at it. You get my point…

Instead of “I am kidding” we can say “What I meant was…” 

  • CALM DOWN – (*extra bonus*) used when the other person is upset, but saying it only causes the opposite of “calming down”. It can also sound condescending.

Instead, try: “Ok, let me try again. What I meant was…”

As you see I use a lot “What I meant was…” because I want to make sure the other person understands what I mean and avoid misunderstandings.

Life is constantly changing and we are constantly learning, which is great! I always appreciate these little gems of learning moments. As Leonard Da Vinci once said: “The noblest pleasure is the joy of learning” so let’s keep on learning. I hope this small list can help you in your future conversations. As always, let us know your thoughts about this post and come back for more tips on improving communication and conflict management.







P.S.: Oh, and feel free to share this email with anyone you think could benefit from it. It’s FREE!
Focusing on what matters most, let’s improve our communication and transform our interactions one conversation at a time.

Follow me for more FREE content

%d bloggers like this: