13 Phrases You Don’t Realize Get Taken The Wrong Way & Make You Look Bad

Conversation and communication are vital when it comes to interacting with other people and, though you successfully communicate everyday, it can be relatively easy to get tripped up by common words, phrases, and the like and accidentally offend or insult someone. Obviously, that's typically not the goal, but if the person you're speaking with interprets something differently than how you intended it to come across, it can spell trouble. If that's a concern for you, these common phrases you don't realize get taken the wrong way and reflect badly on you are things you definitely need to know.

There are many accidental missteps that you can make in a conversation with someone, and when those missteps happen, even if it's with someone who you know very well, a lot of damage can be done. You, of course, run the risk of accidentally offending them, which can be a real setback in your relationship with the other person. Not only that, but if you don't realize that these particular phrases can easily be misunderstood or misinterpreted, it can reflect very badly on you, because not only did you potentially insult someone, but you also have no idea what you might have done wrong. Knowing that these phrases can be — or often are — taken the wrong way and can make you look bad can help you avoid any unnecessary or unintentional slights so that, ideally, at the very least, you don't cause offense without knowing that you did so.


"No Offense"

When someone starts or ends a sentence with "no offense," you can be pretty sure that they've probably said something that could cause offense. Qualifying what you're saying by noting that you're not insulting them probably means that you already realize that what you're saying might insult them. Sometimes people will just roll with it and not take offense, but oftentimes that's a dead giveaway that you crossed a line.


"I'm Sorry You're Upset"

Genuine apologies are important when you make mistakes, of course, but saying that you're sorry that the other person's feelings were hurt or that you're sorry that the other person is upset really isn't an apology at all. Apologize for your own actions, not for the way that the other person is feeling.


"Don't Take This Personally"

In a post that she published on her website, Susana Rinderle, a speaker, author, coach, and diversity and inclusion expert, wrote that this phrase not only serves to give the speaker permission to say whatever they want, but also makes it seem as if it's the listener's fault if they are upset by what's said. That's not OK.


"I Don't Want To Brag, But..."

As The Muse noted, what people hear when you say this phrase is that you really do want to brag. Humility is only effective when it's sincere and, oftentimes, somewhat understated. This statement, which is said under the guise of humility, just really signals that you want to draw attention to your accomplishments or decisions.


"Well, You Meant Well"

Telling someone that they meant well or that at least their intentions were good is kind of like telling someone that they failed, if you think about it. They weren't able to successfully get something done, but at least they intended to do the right thing. In some cases, this probably won't be taken too badly, but in other cases, it's kind of an insult.


"I'm Just Being Honest"

"I'm just being honest" falls into the same category as "no offense." The idea that you're "being honest" doesn't make up for what you say, nor does it give you license to say whatever you want, regardless of what it may be or who it may hurt.


"It's Fine"

As The Muse noted in the previously-mentioned article, the word "fine" is actually quite positive, but many people equate it with mediocrity or the status quo. Because of this, when you tell someone that something they did was fine, they might hear it and take it as a slight, when that's not actually how you meant it at all.


"You Did A Great Job, All Things Considered"

If you're going to give someone a compliment, it's best not to add a qualifying phrase to it. Adding "all things considered" lessens the compliment and makes it seem as though they didn't actually do well enough to merit the compliment without a disclaimer.


"Don't Take This The Wrong Way, But..."

Working Mother noted that Dr. James Pennebaker from the University of Texas said that phrases like this one serve to distance you from what you're saying, even if you don't realize that that's what you're doing. Take ownership over what you're saying or rethink the way you've phrased it. This phrase also puts the burden on the listener to react a certain way and suggests that if they get upset, it's their own fault. That's not good.


"Calm Down"

This can be especially difficult to hear for people who have anxiety or other mental health issues because it's not always as simple as just deciding you're going to calm down. And if you are able to easily calm yourself down, this is still a statement that can cause offense. You probably don't mean it maliciously, but it's good to know that something so common and simple can be taken the wrong way.


"You Shouldn't Feel That Way"

Telling people that their feelings aren't valid or worthwhile is typically not going to go over all that well. It makes them feel as though they've been dismissed, but also judged and potentially even like you think you're better than they are. They're allowed to feel the way that they feel and if you tell them otherwise, they might take it poorly.


"Here's What I Think You Really Mean"

If you say this (or any variation of it) to someone, they're probably going to interpret it as "mansplaining," or that phenomenon that you've likely experienced before when someone essentially tells you that you're wrong before parroting back the same ideas to you. It's a frustrating experience, to say the least, so they probably won't appreciate it when you say it. You might've been trying to be helpful, but that's not how it ended up sounding.


"I'm Just Saying"

Like some of the other phrases, this phrase is one that you might be using to give yourself permission to say whatever you want to, but ultimately, you're still responsible for what you're saying. It's important to remember that adding little disclaimers or qualifying phrases doesn't absolve you of that responsibility, which means you can still hurt people. And that's not a good look on you.

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