In Career Discussions, Interviews

How many of these patronizing phrases have you used?

It happens. Even if we don’t mean it to. Sometimes the words and phrases we use convey an insult that we don’t intend. It’s easier to spot condescending speech when it is direct toward us. But it might not be so easy to identify if we are saying it ourselves. If you are at a job interview, working (remotely or in an office), or going about your usual day, consider eliminating the following phrases from your vocabulary.

Patronizing Phrases to Stop Using

#1. “You should smile more” or “You look better when you smile”

This sort of comment is typically directed toward women more than men. So, it could also be considered sexist – a double whammy – and should be avoided at all times. People should not be expected to be smiling all the time. It is also not accurate to assume someone is unhappy if they aren’t smiling. If the person generally seems upset it is better to inquire if they are ok.

Say this instead: “How are you doing today? Is anything bothering you?”

patronizing phrases. woman holding a balloon in the shape of lips in front of her face

#2. “Does that make sense?”

This phase is used a lot without the intention of being rude. Most people honestly want to know if the other person understands or gets what they just explained. The tone you use when you deliver this has a lot to do with how it will be received. Of course, when it is used in writing, like an email, tone can’t be conveyed so avoid using it this way. You don’t want people to assume you think they are stupid or can’t grasp what you are saying.

Say this instead: “How does that sound?” or “What do you think about that?”

patronizing phrases. Woman gesturing with hand confused

#3. “Always” and “Never”

Extreme qualifiers are damaging to communication and relationship and are usually not true anyway. For example, “You always do that wrong” or “You are never on time.” These types of phrases hurt people’s feelings and also make you seem immature for saying them.

Say this instead: Replace always and never with sometimes, frequently, regularly, etc.

patronizing phrases. printed text of the word "never"

#4. “Just Relax”

Ugh. This one goes along with the “smile” comments and should not be used to try to calm someone down. Telling someone to take it easy is implying that they shouldn’t be upset about what is bothering them. People appreciate being understood and cared about, not being told that their feelings are wrong.

Say this instead: Say something that shows you can sympathize with what they are going through. “That’s rough.” or “That sounds hard.”

patronizing phrases. Man in blue shirt gesturing as if to say, "just relax"

#5. “Actually”

Using the word actually to qualify something like, “I actually like what you did.” or “I actually think that’s a great idea.” While you may mean to dispel the doubt the other person has, you may actually be conveying you are surprised that you could like anything they had come up with. This is another one that has a lot to do with tone and the circumstances.

Say this instead: “I love what you did!” or “I really like that idea.”

patronizing phrases. Man with hand on forehead and surprised look on his face

#6. “I understand, but…” or “I hear what you are saying, but…”

The word “but” is typically used as a negative. In these examples, it is invalidating what they said and implying that you think you know better. A “but” will automatically put the other person on the defense.

Say this instead: replace but with and. “I understand, and…” and then go on to state your idea or opinion. This is a lot less aggressive and negative.

patronizing phrases. Woman holding her hand up as if to say "Stop"

What patronizing phrases do you dislike?

Can you think of more thoughtless or condescending phrases that you bristle at? It’s important to think about how we communicate professionally and in our personal lives, especially if you are unintentionally causing issues when you don’t mean to.

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