You’ve heard it before: communication is key.
But that is far easier said than done. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell what people actually want to say by their words alone.
For example, some common phrases may seem completely harmless, but if you look deeper into them, they are actually pretty judgemental.
They’re commonly used by passive-aggressive people or those who rely on the connotative rather than the literal meaning of the phrase.
This article lists 7 phrases that seem harmless but are actually loaded with judgment so you can better judge exactly how a person feels about you.
1) “No offense…”
This phrase is often followed by the word “but.”
My grandpa once told me that people often don’t mean the words before “but.” In reality, they only mean what’s said after the “but.”
And nothing embodies this adage more than “no offense.”
By preemptively stating “no offense,” people are basically denying your right to be offended—even if they said something offensive.
In my opinion, they are too lazy to find the right words to express their feelings in a more respectful, caring, and empathetic manner.
And you know what? You’ve probably used this phrase before, too! I know I have.
So the next time you catch yourself just about to use this phrase, back down and double-check your intentions firsthand.
- Is your feedback solicited or welcome?
- Is it necessary or helpful?
- Are you saying it in a way that is constructive and empathetic?
And you know what?
This goes for pretty much all the phrases in this list because we’ve all said them at least a few times before.
2) “Moving forward…”
This really means: “You better not do that again. Ever.”
Or “Next time, do what I say.”
To explain further, it’s actually used to kind of brush the issue under the rug.
Instead of discussing the problem directly, the person uses this phrase to evade doing just that.
By focusing on the future, they don’t have to explain why they have an issue with what you did. They also deny you your right to respond, apologize, or explain your side.
They are effectively claiming the final say on things instead of trying to come to an agreement or compromise about the issue.
3) “Do what you want”
Okay, this phrase can be absolutely benign when used in a friendly situation.
“What hair color should I get?”
“Do what you want! I think anything fits you.”
Something like that. In this case, it’s used quite supportively.
But if used in an argument?
When someone uses this phrase in a heated moment, they’re probably telling you to do what they want you to do…
Do what you want!… Because I have given up on trying to make you do it.
It’s basically them throwing their hands up in the air and mocking your freedom to do anything at the same time.
In fact, they’re probably resenting you for doing exactly what you want.
I still remember when my parents used this phrase against me when I told them that I took a different college major than what they wanted.
There can be so much emotion in this phrase! So, be careful if you want to use it, too!
4) “You’re too sensitive…”
Honestly, this one is probably just straight-up offensive than passive-aggressive.
Many people just don’t think that it’s offensive when it actually is.
By telling you you’re too sensitive, someone is essentially invalidating your emotions. They’re telling you that you can’t or shouldn’t feel the way that you’re feeling.
In fact, it’s most often used by people to rid themselves of any accountability after doing or saying something wrong.
Then, when you tell them how they’ve hurt, they’lltell you that you’re too sensitive or too emotional to avoid having to admit their mistakes and apologize.
5) “Looks like you have it all figured out”
This is typically used when catching up with an old acquaintance or friend.
It’s often used right after you tell them how you’re doing in life, which may include sharing about any achievements or improvements you’ve made since you last met.
When they use this phrase, they try to undermine your life choices or successes.
Why? Well, they might feel bitter or jealous.
It’s a way for them to mask—and even deflect—their insecurities onto you.
But it can also pertain to current events.
For example, right after a work meeting where I proposed a project that our bosses liked, my colleague told me this exact phrase.
Many people will think this is a compliment (I know I did), but take note of just how people say it.
Their tone of voice can reveal their true intentions.
6) “I mean, if you like it…”
Another phrase that really depends on the tone of voice is used by people who aren’t exactly happy with other people’s choices.
On one hand, if said in a friendly way, it can be a way to signal that while they won’t do the same thing, they respect your choice.
But if one says it in an exasperated voice, for example, then it hits so differently, does it?
To be honest, I think it’s just much better to say it directly: “It’s not something I’d do myself, but if you’re happy about it, then I’m happy you’re happy.”
7) “It’s just a joke”
I admit I’m quite guilty of using this phrase as an excuse to hurt someone else’s feelings.
It can definitely be quite tricky toeing the line between light-hearted teasing and hitting truly sensitive spots of another person.
And sometimes, we don’t even mean to actually hurt someone! Sometimes, we only realize that we went too far after the doing.
In those cases, we need to refrain from using this phrase.
Like the other entries on this list, it effectively invalidates someone’s right to feel what they feel. It’s also a way for us to dodge taking accountability and apologizing.
Worse, however, is when one uses it in an intentional manner. When they use “it’s just a joke” or “I’m just joking” in this way, they truly mean to hurt and mock you.
The traits of passive-aggressive people
Passive-aggressive people typically have traits that include, but are not limited to:
Their words, body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions don’t match.
A common example is when they say, “Gee, thanks!” while rolling their eyes and walking away. They’re obviously not thankful for whatever they did.
They use the “silent treatment”
Sometimes, not saying anything at all says a lot.
By using the silent treatment, they want you to know that they’re upset, but they don’t want to confirm outright that they are, indeed, angry.
By doing so, they can pretend that nothing is wrong, all while you figure out how to solve the issue on your own.
Tendencies for sabotage
A passive-aggressive person’s attitude is not limited to their words. Their actions can be passive-aggressive, too.
For example, they might offer to help you set up your party, but they’ll secretly do things like give people the wrong address or pretend to “forget” to invite some of your other friends.
Pouting, huffing, sighing, crossing arms, etc.
A passive-aggressive person will rely heavily on non-verbal communication. They might sigh, shake their head, pout, roll their eyes, or do other things to signal disappointment while never actually talking to you about it.
How to communicate in a more healthy way
Do you think that you’ve actually been passive-aggressive in the past?
Honestly, I think most of us have, at least in some ways and at some times.
It’s an extremely common behavior. After all, we sometimes feel that it’s just too much of a burden to explain ourselves in depth, so we resort to quick, passive-aggressive retorts.
Here are a few tips to help you minimize passive-aggressive behavior.
1) Assume people have good intentions.
A lot of the time, we get tempted to act passive-aggressively as a reaction to what we think is passive-aggressive behavior from other people
Oftentimes, it’s best to assume that they’re being genuine. Either way, even if they are being passive-aggressive, being passive-aggressive yourself only escalates the tension.
If you’re unsure, ask them directly if they’re upset or being passive-aggressive.
2) Being open to confrontation and difficult conversations.
People often resort to passive-aggressiveness because they want to avoid confrontations and difficult conversations. It’s essentially a way to brush issues under the rug.
Truth be told, confrontations are a difficult yet necessary part of maintaining healthy relationships.
While confrontations also have a negative reputation, it’s also totally possible to have them in a respectful and empathetic way.
3) Avoid ghosting or the silent treatment
Not responding to someone shuts the door on any possible reconciliation. If you need some time alone to reflect on things before you can respond, tell them that.
This actually goes for both face-to-face and online interactions!
4) Understand that you have the right to be angry
Being angry isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes, things happen that justify—or even necessitate—anger. For example, when you’re gravely wronged.
You have the right to express this anger (in a non-harmful way, of course). Being passive-aggressive equates to bottling this anger up, making you feel even worse in the long run.
5) Realize you need to change.
You can’t change if you don’t accept that you do, in fact, need to change!
Realize that the “passive” part of passive-aggression does not make the aggressive part less aggressive. More importantly, you should know that continuing to act in this way will only gradually degrade your relationships.
The bottom line
If you’ve been passive-aggressive in the past, don’t fret too much. We’ve all done it!
We just need to move forward with our communication habits more intentionally. We need to keep in mind that passive-aggressiveness only fosters tension and resentment.
More generally, we need to strengthen our communication muscles. We need to find better vocabulary to stop using these phrases. We also need to find better ways of phrasing things so that we can have the difficult conversations that we need to have.
No more hiding under passive-aggression!