“Actions speak louder than words!”
There’s a lot of truth to this expression. But our words still hold tremendous power.
This is particularly true since a high percentage of our conversations have moved to video and we can only see people from the neck up.
When it comes to keeping our relationships tight, keeping track of the phrases that light people up is a valuable exercise.
But don’t underestimate the importance of getting clear on the phrases that drag people down and banishing them from your vocabulary. After all, not saying something that annoys people doesn’t automatically make you likable, but it sure helps.
Over the last year, I’ve been collecting the phrases people love to hear along with those that make their ears bleed. As we wrap up 2020, give people the gift in 2021 of sparing them from hearing the phrases below.
1. Just a friendly reminder
Maybe you can get away with saying this phrase if someone hasn’t replied to your kids’ birthday party. But even then, “Liam’s party is next Saturday at 1 PM and we’d love for you to be there,” accomplishes the same thing without using fluffy language.
Say “This is just a friendly reminder” or “Just a friendly nudge” to yourself in a variety of tones. They all sound annoying, right?
If you need an update from someone, don’t dance. “Can you give me a status….?” is fine. The same goes for letting people know the due date again to reinforce the information you’re requesting is important to you.
2. Let’s park that for now
“Let’s table that for now!”
“Let’s play it by ear!”
“Let me sit with that!”
“Let’s touch base on that later!”
According to my friend Marina Glazman, all of these phrases are code for “I don’t care about this, so please f-off!”
Instead of saying something generic, give people a specific response: “Let’s talk about that tomorrow. I’m available at 10 AM.” Or, if it’s something you’re definitely not interested in, let people know your reasoning in private and move on. They may not like it. But it beats the hell out of being strung along.
3. Good luck with that
I told a friend I submitted an article to a big name publication and he replied by saying, “Good luck with that!” He might as well have told me I didn’t stand a chance in hell.
When someone’s excited about something, they may not be looking for your approval. But they are looking for your support.
“They’d be lucky to have you” or “You’ve put in the work” is much better than saying “Good luck with that” or even “Good luck.”
4. As I said before
Like a lot of the phrases on this list, it’s impossible to say “As I said before” without sounding condescending. So instead of saying it, or its equally annoying cousin, “At the risk of repeating myself,” rephrase your message or just go ahead and repeat yourself.
When it comes to the written word, the burden of clarity always falls on the writer, not the reader. The same goes for the words you say.
Maybe you didn’t communicate as well as you had thought.
Or maybe people are missing crucial information that you assumed they had.
Or maybe they simply didn’t hear you the first time.
5. If I’m being honest
“If you want people to think you’re full of shit, tell them you’re being honest.” My friend Joan Garcia said this to me and I couldn’t agree more. The phrases “If I’m being honest” or “Honestly” begs the question — “Are you normally not honest?”
When it comes to communication, cut the fluff. This is especially true when you use words that make people question your integrity. The phrase “I’m not gonna lie” doesn’t help your cause either.
6. Let’s take this offline
If what someone’s talking about is off-topic during a group conversation, saying “Interesting point. Let’s talk about it after the call” is so much better than “Let’s take this offline.”
Like my wife Laia recently said, “Just because the use of technology continues to rise, doesn’t mean we need to talk like robots.”
7. With all due respect
Much like the phrases, “No offense, but” or “I probably shouldn’t say this” rarely does something positive come after the words “With all due respect.”
Sometimes we have to say things that people may not be looking to hear. When you are in this position, just come out and say what the problem is. People may not love it at the moment, but it can build trust in the long-run as we all need people around us who will give it to us straight.
Plus, “Your presentation skills need work,” is much kinder than adding in a snarky comment before it like “With all due respect.”
8. Let’s circle back to that
I asked my Linkedin network which phrases bug them the most and “Let’s circle back to that!” topped the list. People interpret these words as what they’re saying isn’t worth your time or you don’t know the answer to their question.
The next time you feel the urge to say “Let’s circle back to that” stop yourself and consider the following words instead — “That’s a good point. Let’s talk about it tomorrow morning” or “That’s a good question and I don’t know the answer. But I’ll find out and let you know before the end of the day.”
9. I saw that coming
“I told you a bitcoin boom was coming!”
People don’t like to be reminded you’re smarter than them. And they certainly don’t like to be reminded their life could be better if they’d only listened to your advice.
Our job isn’t to always make other people feel better — sometimes it’s simply to not make people feel worse. Removing the words “I saw that one coming” and any variation of “I told you so” from your vocabulary is an effective way to do that.
10. Everything will be okay
“Chin up! Give it some time. Everything will be okay!”
Like most of these phrases, I’ve been guilty of saying, “Everything will be okay,” and also “Everything happens for a reason.” But more times than not, they came out as a reaction instead of taking the time to say a thoughtful response.
If we’ve learned anything this past year, it’s that not everything is going to be okay and not everything happens for a reason. When something bad happens to someone you care about, instead of encouraging them to look for a silver lining, let them lean on you. After all, sometimes the best thing we can say is nothing at all.
Pulling it all together
Phrases like the ones above and others like “It’s not my fault!” and “What were you thinking?” may sound like obvious mistakes. But we say them all the time. Just a few days ago, editors at the Wall Street Journal made the decision to allow writer Joseph Epstein to refer to Jill Biden as “Kiddo” in his recent Op-ed.
In addition to banishing the phrases above from your vocabulary, don’t call a grown woman (or man) “Kiddo” in 2021. And maybe, when referring to a pandemic, saying “It is what it is!” isn’t the best choice of words either.
This article first appeared on Medium.
Michael Thompson is a career and communication coach who helps people advance their professional careers while simplifying their personal lives. For weekly career tips and thoughtful essays, feel free to follow along here.