If someone uses these 9 phrases in a conversation, their communication skills need improvement

I recently stumbled upon an eye-opening survey by Preply, revealing some pretty telling insights about American’s views on communication blunders. 

Topping the list? Shifting blame, with a whopping 26% seeing it as a major faux pas. 

Close on its heels was being patronizing, irking 16%, and denying anger, which bugged 5% of folks.

This got me thinking. We often toss around phrases that embody these exact no-nos, probably more often than we’d like to admit, and heck, sometimes we don’t even realize we’re doing it. 

With this in mind, today, we dive into some phrases that are muddying the waters of clear communication and probably ticking people off, perhaps without us even realizing it. 

Are you guilty of using any of these? 

If so, it might be time to give them the boot. 

Let’s get to it.

1) “You’re too sensitive”

This line, “You’re too sensitive,” pops up all the time, doesn’t it? 

In fact, it’s so common that it came in as the worst passive-aggressive phrase in a survey by Preply

Whether we’re chatting with friends or in a meeting at work, it’s a common go-to phrase that many of us have heard at one point or another.

What it really means

Let’s be real: when someone says, “You’re too sensitive,” they’re not just making an innocent observation. It’s actually a sneaky way of saying, “Hey, the problem isn’t me, it’s you for getting upset.”

This shifts the blame and makes it seem like you’re the one overreacting.

How to deal with it

So, how should you handle it when someone hits you with this line? 

Try something like, “Okay, you might see it that way, but my feelings are totally legit. How about we focus on the real issue here?” 

This response is about sticking up for your feelings while steering the conversation back to what’s actually important. It’s all about not getting lost in arguing about who’s too sensitive and more about solving the actual problem at hand.

What to say instead

If you find yourself tempted to tell someone they’re being too sensitive, pause for a second. 

A better approach is to acknowledge their feelings and express your own viewpoint without dismissing theirs. For example, you could say, “I see this has upset you, and that wasn’t my intention. Let’s talk about why this is bothering you and work through it together.” 

This way, you’re opening up a dialogue, showing empathy, and working towards understanding each other better, rather than shutting down the conversation with a critical remark.

2) “Whatever”

Picture this: You’re in the middle of a heated discussion, and just when you think you’re making a point, the other person hits you with a flat “Whatever.” It’s like hitting a brick wall, isn’t it?

What it really means

“Whatever” is the ultimate conversation killer. 

It’s often used as a way to deny anger or frustration, but let’s call a spade a spade – it’s more than that. This little word packs a punch of indifference and dismissiveness.

It’s like saying, “I don’t care enough about this issue – or your opinion – to continue this discussion.” It’s a cop-out, an easy escape hatch when someone doesn’t want to deal with the nitty-gritty of a disagreement.

How to respond to this phrase

When someone throws a “Whatever” your way, it can be tempting to throw your hands up and walk away. 

But if the issue matters, that’s not going to help. 

Instead, try saying, “It seems like you’re not interested in discussing this further, which is frustrating. I think this issue is important, so can we find a better time to talk about it?” 

This approach acknowledges the shutdown but keeps the door open for future dialogue.

What to say instead

If you’re on the verge of dropping a “Whatever” in a conversation, take a breath and consider a more constructive response. 

Try, “I’m finding it hard to express my thoughts on this right now. Can we take a break and revisit this later?” 

This way, you’re being honest about your feelings without shutting the other person down. It shows you’re still engaged and open to finding a resolution, just at a more suitable time.

3) “You always…”

Ever found yourself on the receiving end of a “You always…” statement? 

It’s a phrase that can instantly put anyone on the defensive.

Using absolutes like “always” or “never” in an argument can lead to overgeneralizations and, quite frankly, unfair accusations. 

They paint behaviors with a broad brush, often ignoring the nuances of different situations and the fact that people can, and do, change their actions.

What it really means

When someone starts a sentence with “You always…”, what they’re often trying to do is shift the blame entirely onto you. 

It’s a tactic to corner you into a defensive position, where you’re too busy defending your character instead of addressing the real issue at hand. It’s less about solving a problem and more about pinning down fault.

How to respond to this phrase

Being on the receiving end of an absolute accusation can be infuriating. A good way to respond is by bringing the conversation back to specifics. 

You might say, “It sounds like you’re really upset about something specific. Can you tell me about a particular instance that’s bothering you?” 

This redirects the conversation from vague accusations to actual events that can be discussed and, hopefully, resolved.

What to say instead

If you catch yourself about to use an absolute like “You always…”, stop and think about what you’re really trying to communicate. Focus on the specific behavior that’s bothering you and address that instead. 

A better approach would be, “I’ve noticed that sometimes you [specific behavior], and it makes me feel [your feelings]. Can we talk about this?” 

This way, you’re focusing on particular instances and your reactions to them, which is far more constructive for resolving conflicts.

4) “I would have…”

This one hits close to home. Back in my early twenties while working in finance, I had a particularly condescending colleague who would say this day-in-day out. 

This guy wasn’t much older than me, but you wouldn’t know it from how he acted. He was always dishing out unsolicited advice, playing the teacher’s role, as if he had all the answers.

I distinctly recall him often starting sentences with “You know, I would have…”, followed by what he thought were pearls of wisdom. 

What it really means

This phrase is less about offering helpful guidance and more about asserting superiority

When someone uses it, they’re not just sharing advice; they’re subtly implying that they know better, that their way is the ‘right’ way. 

It’s a subtle dig, a way of saying, “If I were in your shoes, I wouldn’t have made the mistake you did.”

How to respond to this phrase

Dealing with this kind of ‘advice’ can be tricky, especially if it’s coming from a colleague or superior. A good way to respond is by acknowledging their input while maintaining your stance. 

For instance, you might say, “I appreciate your perspective, but I made my decision based on the information and circumstances I had at the time. I’m open to suggestions, but I stand by my approach.” 

This way, you’re not dismissing their input outright but also not letting them undermine your confidence in your decisions.

What to say instead

If you find yourself about to say this, pause and consider a more collaborative approach. 

Rather than implying what they did was wrong, offer your thoughts as an alternative perspective. Say something like, “Did you considered trying…?” or “One approach that could also work is…”. 

This way, you’re contributing to a solution without belittling their efforts or decisions.

5) “No offense but…”

“No offense, but…” – this phrase also made it onto the list of the worst passive-aggressive phrases in the Preply survey I mentioned earlier, ranking at number 3. 

It’s a phrase that’s all too common in conversations, whether in the office or during casual chats, and it’s inevitably a prelude to something that’s, well, offensive.

What it really means

Let’s be clear: starting a sentence with “No offense, but…” is almost always a signal that the speaker is about to say something offensive. 

It’s a weak attempt to soften the blow of a critical or harsh statement. 

This phrase is essentially a heads-up that the speaker knows what they’re about to say is likely to upset or insult you, but they’re going to say it anyway.

How to respond to this phrase

When someone begins a sentence with “No offense, but…”, brace yourself. A good way to respond is to call attention to the phrase itself. 

You could say something like, “I appreciate your honesty, but starting with ‘no offense’ makes me wary. I’m open to constructive feedback, so let’s focus on the issue directly.” 

This response acknowledges their intent to give feedback but discourages the use of backhanded phrases.

What to say instead

If you’re about to say “No offense, but…”, stop and reconsider your wording. If you have constructive criticism to offer, be direct and respectful. 

Instead of prefacing your statement with a qualifier that implies offense, try something like, “I have some feedback that might help.” 

This approach is straightforward and removes the unnecessary and often misleading preface that can make the listener defensive.

6) “You wouldn’t understand”

Ever been hit with the phrase “You wouldn’t understand” in the middle of a discussion? It’s a conversation-stopper, isn’t it?

What it really means

When someone says “You wouldn’t understand,” it’s the epitome of patronizing. I can’t think of a phrase more dismissive and belittling. 

It’s a way of saying, “I think this is beyond your comprehension,” implying a sense of superiority over the listener. 

This phrase not only shuts down the conversation but also demeans the intelligence or experience of the person on the receiving end.

How to respond to this phrase

Being on the receiving end of such a patronizing remark can be frustrating, I know. 

A calm and collected response could be, “I may not have the same perspective as you, but I am capable of understanding. Could you explain it to me?” 

This response challenges the assumption behind the phrase and expresses a willingness to engage and understand, turning the conversation into a more inclusive dialogue.

What to say instead

If you’re tempted to use this phrase, pause and consider a more inclusive approach. Rather than assuming the other person won’t understand, offer to share your thoughts or explain your viewpoint. 

You could say, “This might be a bit complex, but I’d like to share my perspective with you.” 

This way, you’re opening up the conversation and giving the other person a chance to engage and understand, rather than shutting them out.

7) “You’re overreacting”

Thinking back to my days in finance, I recall an incident with the condescending colleague I mentioned earlier. 

During a heated discussion, he casually dismissed my concerns with a wave of his hand and the words, “You’re overreacting.” 

Sound familiar?

That moment not only intensified my frustration but also left me feeling misunderstood and belittled. I’m sure many of you have experienced similar.

What it really means

Telling someone they’re overreacting is a classic way of invalidating their feelings. It’s not just about disagreeing with their reaction; it’s about denying their right to feel upset or affected by a situation. 

This approach can quickly escalate conflicts, as it shifts the focus from the issue at hand to a debate over the validity of one’s emotions. It sends a message that their feelings are not valid or important, which can be incredibly damaging to communication and mutual understanding.

How to respond to this phrase

When someone tells you that you’re overreacting, it’s important to assert your feelings without escalating the situation. 

A response could be, “I understand that you might see it differently, but my feelings are valid and reflect my experience of the situation. Can we discuss what’s actually bothering me?” 

This keeps the conversation on track and reinforces that your emotions are legitimate.

What to say instead

If you’re tempted to tell someone they’re overreacting, pause and consider a more understanding response. Acknowledge their feelings and try to understand their perspective. 

You could say, “I see you’re really upset about this. Can you help me understand why this is so important to you?” 

This approach opens up a dialogue and shows that you respect their feelings, even if you don’t share the same perspective. By validating their emotions, you’re more likely to have a productive conversation and find a resolution.

8) “Why are you getting so upset?”

This phrase, “Why are you getting so upset?”, was voted as the second worst passive-aggressive phrase in the survey

It’s a question that, more often than not, adds fuel to the fire rather than helping to extinguish the flames.

What it really means

When someone asks, “Why are you getting so upset?”, it’s rarely out of genuine concern or confusion. 

More often, it’s a subtle way of suggesting that the other person’s emotional response is unjustified or excessive. 

This can feel dismissive and patronizing, as it undermines the person’s feelings and suggests that their response is not valid or appropriate for the situation.

How to respond to this phrase

Dealing with this kind of question can be tricky, especially when emotions are already running high. 

But a constructive response might be, “I’m upset because this issue is important to me. Let’s focus on the problem, not my reaction to it.” 

This kind of reply acknowledges your emotions while steering the conversation back to the matter at hand.

What to say instead

If you’re on the verge of asking someone why they’re so upset, take a moment to reconsider your approach. Instead of questioning their emotional response, express your willingness to understand and address the underlying issue.

You could say something like, “I can see this is really bothering you. Can you help me understand what’s upsetting you?” 

This shows empathy and opens the door for a more constructive and empathetic dialogue.

9) “You should have…”

“Hindsight is 20/20.” This phrase rings especially true when it comes to the often-heard admonishment, “You should have…”

What it really means

When someone says, “You should have…”, they’re not just giving advice after the fact; they’re implicitly criticizing the decisions that were made. 

It’s a statement that looks back with perfect clarity, ignoring the complexities and uncertainties that exist in the moment of decision-making. 

This can be both invalidating and frustrating, as it suggests that the correct course of action was always obvious, when in fact, it may not have been.

How to respond to this phrase

When faced with a “You should have…” statement, it’s important to acknowledge the hindsight perspective while asserting the reality of the situation as it was. 

A possible response could be, “It’s easy to see that now, but at the time, I made the best decision I could with the information I had.” 

This acknowledges the after-the-fact insight without discounting your own judgment and decision-making process.

What to say instead

Before uttering “You should have…”, consider offering constructive feedback instead. Focus on learning from the situation and preparing for the future, rather than dwelling on past mistakes. 

A more helpful approach might be, “Let’s think about how we can handle similar situations in the future.” 

This reframes the conversation from blame to learning and improvement, which is far more productive and less likely to escalate conflicts.

The bottom line 

Communication is key, but it’s not just about what you say; it’s how you say it. 

Ditch these conversation-killers to keep your chats constructive and your relationships solid. 

Let’s talk better!

Until next time. 

Mal James

Originally from Ireland, Mal is a content writer, entrepreneur, and teacher with a passion for self-development, productivity, relationships, and business.

As an avid reader, Mal delves into a diverse range of genres, expanding his knowledge and honing his writing skills to empower readers to embark on their own transformative journeys.

In his downtime, Mal can be found on the golf course or exploring the beautiful landscapes and diverse culture of Vietnam, where he is now based.

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