This article was updated on July 27, 2021.
Whether you’re in charge of managing a team, head of a department, or are in a role where you’re required to participate frequently in meetings, responding to fellow coworker’s ideas and contributions in a way that’s respectful is important.
However, giving feedback that’s received positively isn’t always straightforward. In fact, there are a few common phrases you might be using that seem harmless, when, they’re perceived as patronizing by your fellow employees.
Here’s a list of patronizing phrases to avoid at work, and what to use instead.
1. “You can do better than that.”
This phrase may seem harmless, but as Jerry Han, Chief Marketing Executive of PrizeRebel explains, it’s problematic for two reasons. “First, it sounds like the kind of thing a parent tells their child,” he says. “Second, it invalidates and criticizes the other person’s work, idea, presentation, etc.”
Instead, Han suggests a more constructive alternative. “‘This looks great, but I think we can do even better. What do you think?’ This compliments the other person, shows you’re on the same side (using ‘we’ instead of ‘I’) and gets them to suggest improvements.” It sends the same message, but in a more empowering way.
2. “Right… Now back to the matter at hand.”
On one hand, Han recognizes this phrase can be useful in meetings, as it can help teams stay on track and focus on the subject at hand. “On the other hand, saying it like this completely ignores and invalidates whatever was being said previously,” Han explains.
“Instead, write down the gist of what the other person is saying, then promise to get back to the subject later,” he suggests. “I like saying things like, ‘that is a great idea, but I think it falls outside the scope of this meeting. Why don’t we discuss this 1-on-1 later?'”
3. “I actually like that idea.”
Another tricky phrase that seems positive but isn’t. “This places the focus on you and away from the person who gave the idea,” says Edgar Arroyo, President of SJD Taxi.
“It can sound like a backhanded compliment, because it may give the impression that you generally think the person does not give good ideas, so you’re surprised that they’ve provided a good idea.”
Instead, Arroyo recommends simply using “That is a good idea” to express your approval.
4. “Everyone knows that…”
Starting a sentence with this phrase can make others feel belittled. “Nobody really knows what another person knows – and saying that can make the other person feel dumb or that they’re missing out if they didn’t know something,” Arroyo explains.
“Use ‘You may know that…’ as a more neutral way of acknowledging that you’re talking about something that people may know about but does not make assumptions,” he suggests.
5. “Good luck with that!”
“This phrase can come off as very condescending because that may indicate that you generally expect the other person to fail, but they may succeed if they have good luck,” Arroyo explains. “It can also indicate that the person doesn’t have the skills or capability to generate results.”
Instead, reframe this in a positive way. “You can say, ‘Feel free to let us know if you need any help,’ if you think the person is taking on a difficult task,” says Arroyo.
6. “You’re missing my point.”
“Someone who says this is implying that it is the other person’s fault for not understanding what they have said and that they are being clear,” Arroyo explains. “However, the person could be at fault for not making their point clear enough or easy enough to understand for everyone.”
“It might be better to say, ‘Let me try to rephrase this to make my meaning clearer.’ This shows that you recognize that you also have a part to play in helping the other person understand you and that you are making an effort,” says Arroyo.