9 common phrases intelligent people avoid (that you should avoid, too)

There’s a fine line between sounding smart and coming across as pretentious. The key lies in the words you choose.

Intelligent people understand this well. They choose their words carefully, avoiding phrases that can undermine their credibility or portray them in a negative light.

That’s why there are certain phrases you won’t hear coming out of their mouths – phrases that can be offensive, belittling, or just plain off-putting.

Here are nine common phrases intelligent people steer clear of – and why you should, too.

1) “I know, right?”

In casual conversations, this phrase might slide by unnoticed. But when it comes to professional interactions, intelligent individuals prefer to stay clear of it.

“I know, right?” can come across as insincere and dismissive, almost as if you’re too eager to agree without putting much thought into what you’re agreeing with.

Smart people understand the importance of thoughtful communication. They value active listening and thoughtful responses. So instead of mindlessly agreeing, they’ll take the time to digest what’s been said and respond appropriately.

By avoiding this phrase, they not only show respect for the speaker’s opinion but also demonstrate their own critical thinking skills. So next time you’re tempted to blurt out “I know, right?”, pause for a moment and consider a more thoughtful response instead.

2) “That’s not how we do it here”

I remember, early in my career, I was full of innovative ideas and eager to share them with my team. But every time I proposed something new, I was met with, “That’s not how we do it here.”

Intelligent folks avoid this phrase like the plague. It stifles creativity and innovation, and can often discourage team members from sharing their ideas.

Instead of shutting down new proposals with this phrase, smart people encourage exploration of new ideas. They foster a culture where creative thinking is welcomed and appreciated.

Looking back, if my team had been more open to new ideas, we might have found more effective ways of working. 

When someone proposes something new, embrace the opportunity for innovation instead of resorting to “That’s not how we do it here.”

3) “It’s not my fault”

Blame-shifting is a common defense mechanism, but it’s one that intelligent people avoid. The phrase “It’s not my fault” can make a person appear irresponsible and unaccountable.

A study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences found that people who tend to blame others for their mistakes are more likely to suffer from stress and depression.

Smart people understand the importance of taking responsibility for their actions, whether the outcome is positive or negative. They know that accountability is a key component of personal growth and relationship building.

Instead of pointing fingers when things go wrong, it’s better to learn from the situation and find ways to improve in the future.

4) “I can’t”

This is a phrase you’ll rarely hear from intelligent individuals. They understand that saying “I can’t” often translates to “I won’t” or “I don’t want to.” It can be seen as a way of shutting down possibilities before exploring them.

Smart people know that every challenge presents an opportunity for growth. Instead of declaring defeat, they search for solutions and alternative approaches.

By avoiding the phrase “I can’t”, they remain open to new opportunities and maintain a positive, can-do attitude. This mindset not only makes them more resilient but also boosts their problem-solving capabilities.

When you’re faced with a task or a problem, try substituting “I can’t” with “Let’s see how I can make this work”.

5) “This may be a stupid question but…”

Intelligent people understand that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. Questions are the catalyst for learning and growth. Prefacing a question with this phrase undermines your own credibility and can make you appear less confident.

Smart people don’t devalue their own queries. They understand that every question is an opportunity to gain new knowledge or clarify understanding.

By avoiding this self-deprecating phrase, they project confidence in their quest for knowledge and invite open discussion without fear of judgement.

The only stupid question is the one that isn’t asked. Don’t devalue your curiosity by calling your questions stupid.

6) “I don’t care”

This phrase can be a real heartbreaker. It’s dismissive, cold, and can cause unnecessary hurt. Intelligent people understand that empathy is a fundamental part of human connection.

Saying “I don’t care” can come across as uncaring or uninterested, and it can damage relationships both personally and professionally.

Smart people know the importance of showing interest and concern for others’ thoughts and feelings. They understand that expressing care and understanding is an essential part of building trust and strengthening relationships.

Instead of saying “I don’t care”, try expressing your feelings in a more empathetic and understanding way. It might not always be easy, but the impact it can have on your relationships is priceless.

7) “You always…” or “You never…”

These absolute statements can be quite damaging. They can create feelings of resentment and defensiveness, and often escalate conflicts instead of resolving them.

Years ago, a close friend and I found ourselves in a heated argument. In the heat of the moment, I said, “You always dismiss my suggestions.” That only made things worse. My friend immediately became defensive and the argument escalated.

Intelligent people avoid these absolute phrases because they understand their destructive potential. They know that such statements are seldom true and only serve to ignite negative emotions.

Instead, smart people use more constructive language. They express their feelings without accusing or blaming. For example, I could have said, “I feel like my suggestions are sometimes overlooked.”

Learning to communicate our feelings without resorting to absolutes can lead to healthier, more productive conversations.

8) “It’s always been done this way”

This is a phrase that can stall progress and innovation. It suggests a resistance to change and a lack of openness to new ideas.

Intelligent people understand that progress requires change. They know that just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the best or only way.

Smart people challenge the status quo and are always looking for better ways to do things. They encourage creativity and innovation, and are not afraid to take risks.

Instead of sticking to the “tried and true” out of habit, consider whether there might be a more efficient or effective way. Embrace the possibility of change and progress.

9) “I told you so”

This phrase may feel satisfying to say in the moment, but it’s one that intelligent people avoid. It can come across as condescending and unsympathetic, and it often serves no purpose other than to make the other person feel worse.

Smart people understand the importance of fostering a supportive and positive environment. They know that helping others learn from their mistakes is more beneficial than rubbing those mistakes in their faces.

When you’re tempted to say “I told you so”, try offering a helping hand or some constructive advice instead. Remember, everyone makes mistakes. It’s how we learn and grow.

The power of words

At the end of the day, the phrases we choose to use can have a profound impact on how others perceive us. They can reveal our thought processes, our attitudes, and even our intelligence.

Intelligent people understand this. They know that certain phrases can undermine their credibility, stifle creativity, or damage relationships. That’s why they carefully select their words and avoid these common phrases.

But remember, we’re all human and we all slip up from time to time. The key is to be aware of our language and strive for improvement.

As the legendary poet Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

So next time you’re about to utter one of these phrases, pause for a moment. Consider if there’s a better way to express yourself – a way that fosters understanding, encourages growth, and builds stronger connections.

Because when it comes down to it, it’s not just about the words we say – it’s about the impact those words have on others.

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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