​9 “polite” things people say that are actually rude

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There’s a fine line between being polite and being inadvertently rude.

Sometimes, the phrases we consider as courteous or well-intentioned can come across as offensive or condescending. Often, we might not even realize the impact of our words.

It’s all about the context, tone, and delivery. What seems polite on the surface can actually be a veiled insult or passive-aggressive comment.

Here, I’ve put together a list of nine so-called “polite” phrases that could easily be misinterpreted. These are common expressions you might be using without realizing their potential rudeness.

With this article, we’re about to navigate the murky waters of social etiquette and learn how to communicate in a truly respectful and considerate manner.

Let’s dive in.

1) “You look tired”

We often say this phrase to show concern or empathy, but it might be doing more harm than good.

Telling someone they look tired is essentially pointing out that they don’t look their best. It’s like saying, “You don’t seem well,” or “You look different today.” While the intention might be to express worry or care, it can easily come off as a negative comment about their appearance.

People usually want to look and feel their best, especially in social or professional settings. So, when you tell someone they look tired, it could make them feel self-conscious or anxious about their appearance.

There’s a better way to express your concern without being inadvertently rude. You could simply ask, “How are you doing?” or “Is everything okay?” This way, you’re offering them an opportunity to share if they’re facing any troubles without making them feel judged on their looks.

When you’re about to tell someone they look tired, pause and reconsider your words. It’s always better to be truly considerate than accidentally offensive.

2) “No offense, but…”

This one’s a personal pet peeve of mine.

I remember a time when a colleague said to me, “No offense, but I think your presentation could have been better.” I appreciated the feedback, but the opening phrase made it feel like a masked insult rather than constructive criticism.

“No offense, but…” is often used as a way to soften the blow of a potentially offensive statement. But let’s be real. More often than not, what follows this phrase is usually offensive or critical.

It’s like saying, “I’m about to say something rude, but I don’t want you to get upset.” It gives the speaker a free pass to say whatever they want without considering the receiver’s feelings.

If you genuinely want to provide feedback or express your opinion without being rude, just be straightforward and considerate in your approach. Instead of saying “No offense, but…”, you can say “I hope this doesn’t upset you, but I have some feedback…” or “I don’t mean to criticize, but I think…”.

It really makes a world of difference when you communicate with kindness and respect. I learned this the hard way in that situation with my colleague, and I’ve been careful with my words ever since.

3) “Bless your heart”

Despite its seemingly sweet and compassionate sound, “Bless your heart” can be a veiled insult, particularly in certain parts of the United States.

Originally from the Southern United States, this phrase is often used in a condescending manner, rather than the sincere blessing it appears to be. It’s similar to saying “Oh, aren’t you cute?” when someone does something silly or misguided.

In other words, it’s a polite way of calling someone an idiot.

Without the knowledge of this cultural nuance, one can easily misconstrue the intention behind this phrase. It’s a prime example of how regional sayings can carry hidden implications that might not be immediately apparent to outsiders.

Before you go around blessing people’s hearts, make sure you understand the context and connotations of this phrase. Words may seem harmless, but they can carry a hefty punch if not used appropriately.

4) “I don’t mean to interrupt, but…”

There’s a general rule of thumb in conversations: if you have to say you’re not doing something, you’re probably doing it. That’s certainly the case with the phrase “I don’t mean to interrupt, but…”

While it might seem like an innocent way to interject, it’s often perceived as rude. By saying this, you acknowledge that you’re interrupting the speaker, which can come off as disrespectful. It gives the impression that what you have to say is more important than what the other person is currently saying.

A more polite approach would be to wait for a pause or a break in the conversation before voicing your thoughts. And if you really need to interject, a simple “excuse me” should suffice.

Good communication involves both speaking and listening. Being mindful of when and how you contribute to a conversation shows respect for others and their opinions.

5) “Just saying”

“Just saying” is a phrase that’s often used to downplay the impact of a potentially hurtful or controversial statement. It’s like a disclaimer that’s meant to absolve the speaker of any responsibility for how their words might be received.

But here’s the thing: if you feel the need to preemptively defend your statement with “just saying,” it’s likely that you’re aware it could be offensive or inflammatory. This phrase can come off as dismissive, suggesting that you don’t care about the other person’s feelings or reactions.

If you’ve got something to say, say it tactfully and take responsibility for your words. And if you think your comment might upset someone, consider whether it really needs to be said at all.

Communication is about respect and understanding, not just voicing our thoughts without considering their impact on others. So let’s ditch the “just saying,” and aim for more considerate conversations.

6) “You’ve lost weight!”

This phrase is often intended as a compliment, but it can unintentionally cause discomfort or distress.

For starters, it implies that the person looked less attractive or desirable before they lost weight, which can be damaging to their self-esteem. It also assumes that losing weight is a goal they were striving for, which may not be the case.

Moreover, this phrase can be particularly hurtful to those struggling with body image issues or eating disorders. What you see as a positive change could be the result of a serious health issue or unhealthy behavior.

Instead of commenting on someone’s physical appearance, try complimenting them on something within their control, like their style, their work, or their kindness.

After all, true beauty comes from within and it’s high time we start recognizing and appreciating that more often.

7) “It was just a joke”

Humor can be a great way to lighten the mood and bring people together. But sometimes, what seems funny to one person can be hurtful to another.

I’ve been on the receiving end of this phrase, after a friend made a joke at my expense during a group hangout. While they laughed it off as harmless fun, I felt embarrassed and belittled.

“It was just a joke” is often used as a defense mechanism to deflect criticism or avoid taking responsibility for an offensive comment. But the reality is, if someone is hurt by your words, it doesn’t matter if you meant it as a joke.

If you find yourself using this phrase, it might be time to reassess your sense of humor. True comedy doesn’t come at the expense of others’ feelings. And if someone tells you they’re hurt by your joke, the correct response is to apologize, not to dismiss their feelings.

Laughter is meant to bring joy, not pain. Let’s make sure our jokes reflect that.

8) “Calm down”

Telling someone to “calm down” during a heated moment is more likely to escalate the situation than diffuse it.

This phrase can come across as dismissive and condescending, as it invalidates the other person’s feelings. It suggests that their reaction is inappropriate or overblown, which can make them feel misunderstood or belittled.

Instead of telling someone to calm down, try acknowledging their feelings and showing empathy. Phrases like “I can see you’re upset,” or “Let’s take a moment to collect our thoughts” can be much more effective in calming a tense situation.

Everyone has the right to express their feelings. It’s not our place to dictate how someone should react. Instead, let’s focus on creating a safe space for open and respectful communication.

9) “You’re overreacting”

This phrase is perhaps one of the most damaging things you can say to someone who’s expressing their feelings.

Telling someone they’re overreacting is a form of gaslighting, as it questions their perception of reality and invalidates their emotions. It suggests that their reaction is unwarranted or excessive, which can make them feel dismissed or belittled.

Resist the urge to judge the intensity of someone’s reaction based on your own standards. Instead, try to understand where they’re coming from and validate their feelings.

Everyone experiences things differently. What may seem trivial to you might be significant to someone else. So let’s strive for empathy and understanding in our conversations, rather than judgement and dismissiveness.

Final thoughts: The power of words

The connection between language and our emotions is profound and powerful.

The phrases we casually throw around can have a significant impact on those around us, often without us even realizing it.

Remember, the goal of communication isn’t just to convey information, but to foster understanding and connection. Our words hold the potential to build bridges or create barriers; they can uplift someone or tear them down.

Each conversation is an opportunity to make someone feel seen, heard, and valued. So let’s strive to use our words wisely, showing kindness and respect in every interaction.

After all, as the old adage goes, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” Let’s make sure our “how” is as respectful and considerate as possible.

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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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