We’ve all had conversations in which we felt uncomfortable, unheard, and unfulfilled. Perhaps our conversation partner’s head was off in the clouds. Perhaps they have a bit of a listening problem.
Or perhaps it’s you.
Every book and article about how to be a likable person/get more friends/be more charismatic focuses on listening to others, making them feel good, etc. Sure, that’s all important, but what you say matters too. People can always sniff out insincerity.
No one will like you if you’re all smiles and then say something as tactless as a sea slug. You’ll annoy people if you pretend to listen to their thoughts and dump compliments on them, then dismiss their feelings. There’s a fine line between performing “niceness” and actually being a cool person to talk to — but there are some things you should just never say.
“You do you.”
The subtext of this phrase is rather loud. Often uttered by people who are too “nice” to say judgmental things outright, this phrase is disguised as an affirmation but is the equivalent of a verbal eyeroll. When you say this to people, you’re letting them know that you don’t really care for their way of doing things. But is that really something that needs to be expressed?
Instead, think about what you really want to say. If you don’t have anything nice to say, it’s better to not say anything at all. If you have concerns about someone’s behavior, e.g. they’re lounging in a beer-filled kiddie pool at 8am rather than going to work, just tell them that.
Few things are more soul-crushing than when you lay out all your thoughts and feelings for someone and they respond with this jab. I could tell you the story of how I lost a gig by saying this instead of responding constructively, but it suffices to say that there is no appropriate use for this word unless someone is asking you what you’d like on your tacos.
People often say this when they don’t feel like engaging in an uncomfortable conversation. If this is you, it’s time to grow up and learn some conflict resolution skills. When someone takes the time to share their feelings with you, start with an acknowledgment, e.g. “I hear you,” then express what you feel. If you need to buy some time to think about it, say, “Give me a moment to think about this.” It’s that simple.
The cry of conspiracy theorists everywhere, this phrase isn’t limited to those who watch YouTube videos about lizard people. It’s something that people tend to say when they think that someone else is being dense. It comes from a place of judgment rather than compassion, which makes it an alienating phrase (no pun intended).
If you think someone is being stupid or has a case of wool pulled over their eyes, it’s probably best to lead with questions rather than demands. Ask them why they think the way they do (this goes for talking to conspiracy theorists as well). Show that you care rather than acting as though they’re an idiot. And if you don’t care, just disengage.
“Don’t take it personally.”
I’ve yet to ever hear someone say this when they weren’t insulting someone. In my experience, if someone has to say “it’s not personal” — it’s personal. Bad news, folks: you don’t get a free pass for being a jerk by asking someone else to not be offended.
Once again, it’s better to just not say something mean. Accept that if you’re commenting on someone’s personal life, goals, shoes, whatever, you’re making it personal. What you really mean when you say “Don’t take it personally” is “Accept whatever I’m about to say without getting upset.” And that’s not a fair request. If you need to criticize something, lead with compassion rather than expecting the world to revolve around you. And if you don’t actually care about someone, just keep your thoughts to yourself.
Few phrases show that you have zero interest like this one. This is the most dismissive thing you can say, and it’s even worse when someone has poured their heart out to you. I get it: something you aren’t sure what to say, or you just don’t have the mental energy to engage with someone.
The mature thing to do is to freakin’ say that, e.g. “I’d love to hear more about this, but I’m preoccupied at the moment. Can we chat later?” If you’re confused, ask questions. Speak from an authentic place; people can always tell when you’re faking it.
All these phrases stem from the same place: selfish entitlement. Even good people can be self-absorbed and believe that only their perspective matters. It’s a natural side effect of how we perceive ourselves as the main character in our world. But to be a better conversation partner and a more compassionate person, evaluate what you’re saying to people. Are you making them feel welcome in the conversation? Or are you using these phrases to draw lines between you?
Lead with curiosity and compassion rather than dismissal and judgment. Ask questions and avoid assumptions. Both you and the other person will get more out of your conversation.
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