20 “nice” things people say that are actually rude

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There’s a time and place for being polite. We’d all prefer that to someone being rude to our face, after all!

But beneath the veneer of courteous smiles and seemingly thoughtful remarks, some polite phrases carry a hidden edge sharper than outright disdain.

Yes, words can be wolves in sheep’s clothing, masquerading as gentle lambs.

Here’s a look at those deceptively polite phrases that, upon closer inspection, reveal their true colors. Not all niceties are as nice as they seem.

1. “Bless your heart”

In the warm, comforting drawl of the southern United States, this phrase flourishes like sweet tea on a hot day.

It sounds nurturing, almost a verbal hug, doesn’t it? Yet, “bless your heart” is often laced with a patronizing tone, a polite way of calling someone an imbecile without the sting of directness.

It’s the kindness that cuts, sweet only on the surface.

2. “Thanks for telling me your concerns”

Ah, the hallmark of corporate passive-aggression. This phrase is dressed in the silk of gratitude but is, in reality, a dismissive nod to your grievances. It’s like saying, “I acknowledge your frustration, but don’t really care.”

Why cloak indifference in appreciation? It’s a polished way of placing your concerns on the shelf, to be forgotten.

3. “Like I said previously…”

Nothing says “I’m ignoring you” with more finesse than this phrase. It’s the verbal equivalent of a condescending pat on the head, suggesting that you either weren’t smart enough to grasp it the first time or that your points aren’t worth acknowledging anew.

True, it’s cloaked in the guise of repetition for clarity, but the underlying message is clear: “You’re not keeping up.”

4. “I’ll let you go now”

Here’s a classic – the illusion of giving you freedom, when in reality, it’s a polite eviction from the conversation. It’s a soft push out the door with a smile.

Ostensibly, it’s considerate, a nod to your busy life and precious time. But let’s be honest, it’s the speaker’s way of saying they’re done with the interaction and you’re just being spared the awkwardness of a blunt goodbye.

5.“You look tired”

On its face, this appears as a comment laced with concern. Yet, it’s a subtle critique, an underhanded way of saying you don’t look your best.

“Tired” is rarely a badge of honor in the social arena; it’s often synonymous with worn-down, less vibrant, or even neglectful of one’s appearance.

If genuine worry was the intent, there are kinder, more private ways to express it.

This, however, is politeness with a pinch of judgment.

6. “Just playing devil’s advocate here…”

This phrase often precedes an unpopular opinion or a contradictory viewpoint, supposedly for the sake of argument.

While it seems like a thoughtful way to introduce a different perspective, it often comes off as a way to express personal beliefs without taking full responsibility for them.

It’s a shield used to deflect backlash while critiquing or challenging someone else’s ideas under the guise of intellectual debate.

7. “No offense, but…”

Whenever someone starts a sentence with “no offense,” brace yourself; an offensive statement is usually on its way.

This prefacing clause is meant to soften the blow of a potentially rude or hurtful comment.

However, it typically does the opposite, signaling that the speaker is aware their comment is offensive but chooses to say it anyway. It’s a false cushion before the fall.

8. “You’re so brave for wearing that”

At first glance, this seems like a compliment, applauding someone’s courage or confidence.

However, it’s often a backhanded way of saying that the person’s choice of attire is somehow odd, inappropriate, or unflattering, and they’re “brave” for daring to wear it despite these perceived flaws.

It’s a compliment laced with criticism, wrapped in the package of admiration.

9. “Wow, you’ve lost weight! You look great!”

This comment is typically intended as a compliment, celebrating someone’s weight loss.

However, it implies that the person only looks good because they’ve lost weight or that their previous appearance was less attractive. It reinforces the idea that beauty is size-dependent, which can be both hurtful and damaging.

A truly polite compliment doesn’t back someone into the corner of societal beauty standards.

10. “I’m not trying to be rude, but…”

Similar to “no offense, but…”, this phrase is a clear precursor to a rude remark. By acknowledging the potential rudeness upfront, the speaker tries to absolve themselves of the rudeness to come.

It’s an attempt to soften the forthcoming criticism or blunt observation, but all it really does is highlight the speaker’s awareness of their own impoliteness.

It’s like saying, “I know I’m being rude, but I’m going to say it anyway.”

11. “It’s just a joke!”

This phrase is frequently used as a quick defense when a supposedly humorous remark doesn’t land well and offends the listener.

While it’s intended to diffuse tension, it often minimizes the listener’s feelings or reaction.

Essentially, it tells the person they’re overreacting and should not feel hurt or insulted, shifting the blame rather than acknowledging the impact of the words.

12. “You’re so articulate!”

On the surface, this sounds like a compliment on someone’s eloquence or speaking skills. However, when said in certain contexts, especially to people of color, it carries an underlying implication of surprise or unspoken expectations based on stereotypes.

It’s a “compliment” that can demean and otherize, suggesting that the speaker’s proficiency is an anomaly rather than an expectation.

13. “You’ve done well for yourself considering your background”

This backhanded compliment is often meant to acknowledge someone’s success but ends up highlighting and judging their origins or circumstances as if those were hurdles they were not expected to overcome.

It insinuates that their achievements are somehow more remarkable because of a perceived disadvantage, which can come across as patronizing rather than supportive.

14. “Let me know how I can help”

While this offer may seem supportive, it places the onus of requesting help on the person in need, who might already be overwhelmed or uncomfortable asking for assistance.

It’s a vague offer that can come off as a polite gesture with no real intention of follow-through, leaving the person feeling more isolated rather than supported.

15. “You should smile more”

This unsolicited advice suggests that someone’s neutral or natural expression isn’t pleasant or acceptable, implying they would be more attractive or agreeable if they altered their demeanor to appear happier.

It disregards personal feelings and autonomy, prioritizing the observer’s comfort over the individual’s genuine emotions or state of mind.

16. “You’re actually good at this!”

This phrase might seem like a compliment at first, acknowledging someone’s skill or achievement.

However, the word “actually” implies surprise, as if the speaker had low expectations or doubts about the person’s abilities.

It can feel demeaning, suggesting that being competent is an exception rather than the rule for them, undermining their talents and efforts.

17. “That’s an… interesting choice”

The pause and emphasis on “interesting” can turn what might have been a neutral observation into a veiled critique.

This phrase often serves as a polite way to express disapproval or skepticism about someone’s decision, taste, or idea without outright saying it.

It’s a diplomatic way to convey doubt or distaste, leaving the underlying criticism unsaid but clearly felt.

18. “You’re lucky to have a job like this”

While intended to highlight the value of someone’s employment opportunity, this remark can belittle the hard work and qualifications that landed them the job in the first place.

It frames their achievement as mere fortune rather than merit, potentially undermining their professional worth and contributions.

19. “If I were you, I would have…”

Offering unsolicited advice or hypothetical solutions can come across as presumptuous and condescending.

This phrase suggests that the speaker believes they could have handled a situation better, undermining the listener’s decisions and experiences.

It often fails to acknowledge the complexities of the scenario or the individual’s circumstances, promoting a one-size-fits-all solution where it may not fit.

20. “You’re so much nicer than I expected”

This backhanded compliment implies that the speaker had preconceived negative assumptions about the person based on stereotypes, rumors, or first impressions.

While it may be intended to express pleasant surprise, it also reveals an initial judgment or bias that casts a shadow over the interaction, making the “compliment” more of an insult.

Conclusion

Communication is tricky. Even when we try to be polite, sometimes we accidentally come off as rude. It’s important to think about not just what we say, but how it might make others feel.

By being more thoughtful and clear, we can make sure our words build bridges, not barriers, and truly show kindness to each other.

 

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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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