Ever had someone take your compliments the wrong way? Or misunderstood the meaning of your words? There may have been times in the past where you thought you were being nice to someone, only for it to backfire and be mistaken for rudeness. So if you want to avoid the unintended consequences of rubbing someone the wrong way, better to carefully choose our words when navigating tricky social interactions. With that said, here are 7 common examples of things we think are “polite” to say but are actually rude:
“You Look Tired.”
Telling someone they look tired may be intended as a gesture of concern, but it can be received as a veiled insult, too, implying that the person looks unwell or unattractive. After all, who wants to be told they look tired even if they’re having a rough day? Instead of pointing out their fatigue, how about asking if everything is alright? That way, your genuine concern can still shine through without risking unintended offense.
“You’ve Lost Weight, You Look Great Now!”
Remarking on another person’s weight can be easily taken the wrong way as many people struggle with body image and self-esteem. Telling someone they “look so much better” now that they’ve “lost all that weight” can hurt their feelings because it inadvertently suggests that the person was not attractive or desirable before losing weight. A better approach would be to simply say, “Wow, you look great!” or “You have a wonderful glow!” This way, you can share your appreciation without potentially causing any discomfort or insecurity, and you avoid reinforcing any harmful societal norms equating thinness with beauty.
“You’re So Smart/Talented For Your Age”
Although seemingly a compliment, this remark can be subtly insulting because it implies surprise and undermines their achievements. Instead of emphasizing their age, it’s better to focus on their skills and achievements outright. You can say, “Your intelligence and skills are truly impressive.” This way, you acknowledge their capabilities without any hint of surprise or condescension tied to their age.
“Don’t Worry, You’ll Find Someone”
We often tell this to our single friends because we hope it’ll comfort them, but it may just unknowingly make them feel worse by creating more pressure for them to settle down soon and implying that just because they’re single, it means they’re lonely. It’s more compassionate to emphasize personal growth, self-love, and genuine connections by saying something like, “Everything will come at the right time” or “The best chapters of your life are yet to unfold, regardless of your relationship status.” This acknowledges that everyone’s journey in the realm of relationships is unique and shifts the emphasis more towards internal growth and self-appreciation.
“You’re So Lucky You Don’t Have to Worry About…”
We all have that one person we somewhat envy because it seems like their life is so easy, or they have the things we want. However, uttering phrases like this can inadvertently dismiss the struggles or responsibilities they have that we might not be aware of. So rather than assuming that everything comes so easily to them and that their life is problem-free (which is never the case), it’s more thoughtful to say something like “I really admire how you handle challenges with grace and determination.”
“Well, that’s certainly one way to look at it…”
You might think that this is a polite and non-confrontational way to disagree with someone’s opinions or ideas while still acknowledging them, but it can easily come across as sarcasm and derision. So instead of using this potentially backhanded response, try a more open and respectful approach, such as saying, “I appreciate your perspective; having different viewpoints helps us all to gain a well-rounded understanding.” This way, you foster a constructive and inclusive conversation, valuing their input without diminishing their stance.
“Look at the bright side!”
Ever told someone to “Look at the bright side” when they were going through a tough time? Although you probably intended to give them a positive perspective, saying things like this can actually invalidate their feelings and struggles. Essentially, it can subtly imply that they’re overreacting or not handling the situation well. So, the next time someone opens up to you about their difficulties, aim to validate their experience rather than minimizing it. Try saying, “That sounds so difficult, I’m really sorry this is happening to you” or, “It totally makes sense that you’re feeling down, is there anything I can do to make things better?”
Misguided attempts at politeness can sometimes lead to backhanded compliments or harmful advice, so understanding the potential negative impact of our words is crucial for fostering respectful and genuine communication. Being mindful of how our expressions may be perceived by others is key to building stronger, more empathetic relationships.
- Strong, R. (2023 Jul 12). 6 “Polite” Things You’re Doing That Are Actually Rude, Etiquette Experts Say. Best Life. https://bestlifeonline.com/polite-things-youre-doing-that-are-actually-rude/
- Reinhard, A. (2023 Sept 14). 10 “Polite” Compliments You’re Giving That Are Actually Offensive. Best Life. https://bestlifeonline.com/offensive-compliments/
- Brian, P. (2023 Aug 6). 20 “polite” things people say that are actually rude. HackSpirit. https://hackspirit.com/polite-things-people-say-that-are-actually-rude/