7 phrases people use in conversation that are actually pretty insulting

Have you ever had a weird feeling about a phrase someone used in a conversation?

It might have been a super common phrase, one that people tend to throw around all the time.

And most people accept it. 

But you can’t stop feeling off about it. Are you just overthinking things, or is there reason for concern?

Well, you might be surprised that some phrases people use a lot are actually pretty insulting.

When I realized this, I started approaching conversations in a very different way — I knew how to navigate them better, and I was able to seem much more trustworthy by avoiding these phrases myself.

Let’s have a look at what these 7 phrases are. 

1) “You wouldn’t understand.”

This phrase, “You wouldn’t understand,” is a perfect example of a comment that sounds neutral but can carry a manipulative undertone. 

It’s a subtle way of belittling you, creating a power dynamic where the speaker positions themselves as more knowledgeable or sophisticated than you.

Consider a scenario where a colleague says, “You wouldn’t understand,” when discussing a complex project. 

This comment might make you feel incompetent or excluded, subtly damaging your confidence. The speaker may use this phrase to maintain control of the situation or to ensure their perceived superiority.

It’s crucial to remember that you have the right to participate in conversations, to ask questions, and to challenge assumptions made about you. 

If you hear “You wouldn’t understand,” don’t shy away. Instead, assert your willingness to learn and engage. 

By doing so, you’ll not only stand up for yourself but also help break down these underhanded tactics that can manipulate social interactions.

2) “You’re actually really (insert positive attribute) for a (insert typecast or stereotype).”

This phrase sounds like a compliment at face value, but what it’s really doing is reinforcing stereotypes and implying that you’re an exception to a rule that shouldn’t even exist.

Suppose you’ve moved from a small town to a large city for work, and you’re making good strides in your career. Then, someone tells you, “You’re actually really ambitious for a small-town person.” 

It seems like praise for your drive and determination, but it’s subtly couched in a stereotype that people from small towns lack ambition.

This comment is unfair and dismissive, making a blanket statement about everyone from small towns. It also attempts to minimize your hard work and success by making it an anomaly. 

Instead of seeing your achievements as a result of your own efforts, it attributes them to overcoming a stereotype.

So the next time someone tries to stereotype you in a seemingly complimenting way, remind yourself of your worth. Don’t let such comments undermine your confidence or accomplishments. 

You can also diplomatically challenge their bias, helping to break down such stereotypes.

3) “You should smile more often.”

Let’s move to another common phrase that probably every woman hates: “You should smile more often.” 

On the surface, it might sound like like a well-intentioned piece of advice, perhaps a wish for you to be happier. 

But picture this: you’re at a social gathering, perhaps a friend’s party. You’re engrossed in conversation with others, listening intently to the stories and experiences they’re sharing. Out of the blue, someone tells you, “You should smile more often.”

Suddenly, your focus shifts. Are you not appearing cheerful enough? Do you seem disinterested or aloof to the others? Self-doubt begins to creep in, all because of that single comment.

What the person saying this might not realize is that they’re imposing their expectations onto you. 

They might equate smiling with enjoyment or attentiveness, but everyone expresses themselves differently. You can engage and be interested in a conversation without constantly wearing a smile.

And, most importantly, you don’t exist just to look attractive to other people. 

Your real friends will accept you for who they are, or put in effort to make you feel good rather than telling you to put on a mask. 

4) “You always” or “You never”

Let’s talk about the phrases that start with “You always” or “You never”. 

We’ve probably all been guilty of using these phrases — especially during conflict.

And you may have picked up your partner’s dirty socks so many times, that it may really feel like they “always” leave them lying around. 

Or, you might feel so frustrated at not being able to get your point across, that it may feel truthful to say “You never hear me out.”

But think about this: is that actually true?

Do they REALLY do this annoying thing 100%, or 0% of the time? Is there not even a single instance, or a tiny bit of effort on their part?

Because if there is, it’s pretty insulting to just sweep it under the carpet like it doesn’t exist. This person may be trying very hard to make you happy or to change a bad habit, but if you won’t even acknowledge their effort, then what’s their effort all for?

If you get hit with this kind of blanket causation, stay calm. Remember, they don’t define you. 

5) “You’re so sensitive.”

Our next phrase, “You’re so sensitive,” is a comment that rarely leads anywhere good, especially as it’s often pulled out during an already emotionally charged conversation.

For example, you could be at a casual hangout with friends where you express your discomfort about a certain joke or remark. Instead of acknowledging your feelings, someone responds with, “You’re so sensitive.”

What they’re doing is invalidating your emotions and making you question your reactions. Am I overreacting, or being too emotional?

What’s worse, it’s a tactic used to deflect responsibility. By calling you sensitive, the speaker avoids having to apologize or acknowledge that they might have been wrong or hurtful.

Being sensitive is not a flaw. It’s part of being human and shows empathy and emotional intelligence

So, the next time someone tells you, “You’re so sensitive,” consider telling them, “Yes, that means I’m human. I would appreciate it if you would consider the impact your words had.”

Turning a blind eye to such manipulative comments allows them to persist. By confronting them head-on, you help foster healthier, more respectful conversations.

6) “I feel sorry for you.” 

If you’ve ever had someone say this phrase to you, I probably don’t need to explain to you that it feels insulting.

You might be sharing a personal story about a challenging situation in your life — you’re not seeking pity, but just opening up. 

But when someone says “I feel sorry for you”, it’s like they’re taking a big dump on your vulnerability.

Now, I know some people might feel that this phrase is like empathizing with someone. If you know someone like this, I hope they find their way to this article, because that’s not quite so.

“I empathize with you”, or any kind of comment that has the same essence, means the person has put themselves in your shoes and can understand what you’re going through. You end up feeling heard and understood.

But “I feel sorry for you” means they’re trying, consciously or not, to put themselves into a position where they are somehow “more” than you. In other words, they’re trying to make you into someone inferior to them, because of your experience.

But obviously, difficult experiences don’t define us. We all go through them — and hopefully the person who says this phrase will understand how to respond better to them in the future. 

7) “With all due respect, …”

The final phrase on our list, “With all due respect, …” is often a precursor to a statement that’s not respectful at all. It can feel like a polite way to share a contrary opinion, but more often, it’s a veiled attempt at dismissal or insult.

Picture this: You’re in a meeting, sharing your ideas on a project. You’re excited and think your contribution could lead to a big breakthrough. Then someone speaks up and says, “With all due respect, this idea is bound to fail.”

The fact is, if the person really respects you, they won’t need to say this to you because it will be clear from their behavior.

And it can definitely be tricky to share sensitive or negative opinions, but if a person presents facts and observations rather than subjective conclusions, they can still do it while showing respect. 

Become the most respected person in the room

Now you know 7 phrases that people use in conversation that are pretty insulting.

Unfortunately, you have no control over other people, so you will probably here all of these again in your life — many times, in fact.

But here’s one amazing thing you can do now: never use these phrases again yourself.

I did just that, and I noticed a massive difference in the way people approach me. They seem to be much more comfortable around me, and there is a much deeper sense of respect between us.

Little things like this can have a huge impact in your communication, and how you make people feel. 

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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