You don’t need a degree in astrophysics from an Ivy League university to come across as intelligent.
In fact, sometimes all it takes is having a more refined approach to conversations.
But great things don’t happen overnight.
Becoming a smart talker is a pursuit that requires commitment, practice, and–just as importantly–knowing what words and phrases to generally avoid.
This is where I come in. Are you ready to start impressing in your conversations?
Let’s dive in!
1) “That’s crazy”
When you’re an active listener, you tend to offer feedback that is well thought out and insightful.
This is a sign of courtesy and social intelligence.
There’s nothing like a painfully generic and passive response like “that’s crazy” to communicate how you’re bored to death and not paying attention.
Frankly, this can be insulting, particularly when the other person is discussing something meaningful to them.
2) “To be honest with you…”
My non-fiction professor always used to tell me: “Kill your darlings.”
In other words, let go of the unnecessary words and make your prose concise and easy to understand.
The same rule applies to speech.
Some words just aren’t necessary when making a statement.
“To be honest with you” is one of these empty phrases that doesn’t add anything to the conversation, except maybe that you weren’t being honest before.
So skip the fluff and just state your point.
3) “More than happy”
Sometimes, we say things without truly analyzing the words being said.
So out of habit, we might be talking nonsensically and routinely using phrases that don’t really mean all that much.
“More than happy” is a good example of the latter.
Think about it: How can one be more than happy? How does one achieve this state, particularly during the mundane circumstances where it is often uttered?
Hence, it’s a tad dishonest. If you’re willing to do a favor for someone, “I’d be happy to” will certainly suffice.
Chances are, this more succinct approach to speaking will make you come across as smarter too.
“Whatever” is something a dismissive teen would say to an overbearing parent.
In short, it’s a little juvenile.
When you want to converse like a smart person, you should aim to respond articulately, whether you agree or not.
You want to show class and grace in your interactions, not aloofness.
So as a general rule, it’s smart to avoid “whatever”, assuming your goal is to make a positive impression.
5) “It is what it is.”
I was mindlessly watching a reality dating show on Netflix to pass the time the other day.
A sorrowful male contestant was still reeling from the rejection of a woman he had just professed his unconditional love towards.
With his voice shaky and eyes teary, he offered a few words to the interviewer: “It is what it is.”
As you may have noticed, I’m all for words that add value or insight to the conversation.
“It is what it is,” isn’t just vague, it’s a filler that, you guessed it, doesn’t really mean anything. It’s talking just for the sake of talking.
It’s commonly used when there’s nothing of value left to say–so if you ever have the urge to drop this one, consider remaining silent or simply ending the conversation instead.
6) “No offense, but…”
You aren’t being particularly intelligent by using insincere language.
When a person uses a line like “no offense, but…”, it typically precedes an offensive statement.
Therefore, you’re making yourself look both disingenuous and inflammatory.
Not an ideal combination.
In short, “no offense” will almost always backfire unless, of course, your intention is to offend.
7) “I could care less.”
You might suddenly “care” more after you say this one in the presence of a grammar authoritarian.
“I could care less” is a widely said, yet misused phrase.
It’s one of those things that we say unknowingly, but it isn’t technically correct.
What you’re going for is “I couldn’t care less,” the deliverance of which will surely leave the smarter folks in the room awe-struck.
8) “Everything happens for a reason.”
In his celebrated essay “Politics and the English Language,” novelist George Orwell describes cliches as having “lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.”
He added, “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”
While Orwell was referring to writing, I would imagine similar rules are applicable to how we speak.
“Everything happens for a reason,” for instance, is both an overused line, a textbook cliche–one that can be rather dismissive of people’s experiences and feelings.
If your goal is to comfort someone who is depressed or bereaved by a turn of events, know that every word you impart holds a great deal of weight and meaning.
You might as well strive for originality.
9) “At the end of the day…”
Speaking of cliches, this one isn’t just overused, it’s another one of those filler phrases that delays getting to the point.
I’m with Orwell, life is too short for annoying cliches.
If you need a conclude a story or point, you don’t need an overdone segway.
Worst-case scenario, go with “ultimately” instead.
“Literally” is another term that is, for lack of a better word, abused by today’s society.
It’s so commonly used now that it has lost meaning.
You’re only supposed to employ “literally” when describing something precisely, without exaggeration or inaccuracy.
So no, there weren’t “literally” a million people at the party, when you meant to say twenty.
If you want to be informal, that’s fine; but if you want to be smart, it’s in your interests to start using words correctly.
Remember, you don’t have to be highbrow or pretentious to sound smart–in fact, much of the time, this will backfire.
Instead, focus on things like clarity, sincerity, meaning, and avoidance of cliches–attributes that will invariably lead to better-quality, richer conversations.
You’ll get there with a bit of practice.
So keep striving to have an awareness of the language you impart, with precision and balance always at the forefront.
You got this… Literally.