Who among us hasn’t had a manager or colleague use a condescending phrase that made our skin crawl? Even the best-intentioned people sometimes say things that come across as just, well, patronizing, if they didn’t mean to sound that way. And even just one sentence can change your opinion of someone and make you feel annoyed and unappreciated.
The most respected people at work know to avoid these all-too-common phrases. If you want to earn your colleagues’ respect, you’ll eliminate them from your vocabulary.
Chances are pretty solid your colleague heard you the first time. There’s no need to remind them that you’re repeating yourself. In fact, you probably shouldn’t repeat yourself at all. This is not the way to get them to understand what you’re saying.
Instead, help them gain clarity in a more respectful way. You might, for example, ask them about the situation that’s causing confusion. It could even be the result of your original phrasing — so it definitely wouldn’t help to keep repeating the same words or making them feel incompetent.
Yes, they heard you. Similar to the phrase above, this implies that you think they’re intelligent enough to grasp your instructions, argument or what have you. This is also somewhat of a disingenuous way to express yourself; after all, you know they heard it, you’re just hammering the point home by implicitly insulting them.
Try a different approach, such as making it an actual question. If you’re not sure what you’re saying is clear, own it, and leave room for them to ask follow-up questions. For example, you might say, “Do you have any questions for me?” or “How does that sound?”
Nothing says “I’m completely resistant to change” like uttering this sentence. You may well have always been doing things the same way, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right way or the most effective way.
Perhaps you have some accepted norms that have been long-established at your company even before you started working there. Even if that’s the case, you had better come up with a better justification beyond the fact that nobody likes change. Or, if you agree with the alternative method of doing things, suggest that your colleague work on a proposal to implement change — perhaps you could even work on it together and give an outdated procedure a much-needed overhaul. test
This may sound well and good. But actually, it’s not. It’s pretty patronizing. It implies that you didn’t expect the other person to have a good idea and are surprised that they did. It also suggests that you have the final say-so on what constitutes a good idea.
The only thing you need to do is eliminate the “actually” from your phrasing and just say, “That’s a good idea.” Then, you’ve eliminated the backhanded piece of the compliment and are simply complimenting them on a great thought.
“Relax.” “Chill out.” “Let’s take a step back.: All of these phrases mean the same thing — you think the other person is overreacting — and none of them is welcome in any context, whether it’s social or professional. Nobody likes being told their feelings aren’t valid, and when you tell someone to calm down, that’s what you’re implying.
When someone is upset, don’t dismiss how they’re feeling or reacting. Instead, emphasize with them and validate them. You could say, “That sounds really difficult,” for example. You could also encourage them to take a real break, such as taking a walk together.
It’s not up to you to decide what the other person is thinking. Like with #2, this suggests that you don’t think they’re intelligent enough to appreciate what you’re expressing. This undermines and undervalues them. It’s similar to the rhetorical “Am I making myself clear?” which is extremely pedantic and paternalistic.
There’s really no alternative to this phrase, other than not saying it at all. If you don’t think the other person is grasping your meaning, try working on your own wording so it’s clearer.
No one “always” does anything, and telling them they do will prompt them to immediately get defensive. If someone is habitually exhibiting a behavior that bothers you, try telling them straight: “When you do X, it bothers me.”
Even saying these phrases with the best intentions can land on the recipient the wrong way. To maintain professionalism and earn the respect of your colleagues, managers, and subordinates, work on alternative, more compassionate approaches. You may well find that people respond to you more positively!
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor in Brooklyn. She has written content for organizations including Penguin Random House, CollegeVine, Studio Institute, Touro College, ACUE, and many others. Her essays and satire have appeared in Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Funny-ish, Jane Austen's Wastebasket, xo Jane, and other publications.
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