Stop Using These Phrases If You Want Better Conversations


We foster healthier relationships and more meaningful connections by moving away from defensiveness and towards open, empathetic dialogue. Recognizing verbal crutches in ourselves and others allows us to introspect and improve communication. Here are 15 defensive phrases we can delete from our conversations.

“Just Saying.”

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Following a sharp or contentious remark, individuals might use “just saying” to soften the impact, effectively trying to distance themselves from the likely fallout of their words.
Better Approach: Express your true intentions or feelings directly, avoiding the need to soften your remark afterward. If the comment is necessary, frame it constructively.

“I’m not trying to be rude, but…”


When people preface their comments with this, it acknowledges the potential breach of social niceties that is about to occur. Ironically, this disclaimer is more for their own sake than for the listener.
Better Approach: Be sincerely polite in your communication; find a kinder and constructive way to convey your message.

“To be honest…”


Asserting honesty in this way suggests an unusual departure from the norm. It insinuates that forthcoming transparency is an anomaly and adds undue weight to someone’s words.
Better Approach: Cultivate an environment where sincerity is the norm, not the exception. Your truthfulness should not be occasional, so practice speaking openly.

“I guess I’m just a bad person, then.”

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An overstatement aimed at turning oneself into a victim, this tactic often seeks to elicit reassurance from the recipient, shifting the focus away from the initial issue.
Better Approach: Instead of resorting to self-deprecation, address the disapproval constructively. Acknowledge any mistakes and convey your willingness to improve.

“Not to argue, but…”


This statement introduces a contrary viewpoint under the guise of avoiding conflict, yet it frequently does the opposite, inviting debate rather than quelling it.
Better Approach: Forget preparing for disagreement with an aggressive tone; aim to understand the other’s perspective and relay your views politely.

“That’s not what I meant.”


After a misunderstanding, this rebuttal reframes the original dialogue positively. It shifts the blame onto the one at the receiving end for the confusion rather than acknowledging any fault in communication.
Better Approach: Strive for clarity in your initial statement; ditch blaming the listener and clarify if misinterpretation occurs.

“You’re taking this too personally.”


Here, the implication is that the individual’s emotional response is disproportionate, belittling their feelings and diverting attention from the message’s content to the nature of the response.
Better Approach: Recognize the emotions of others without dismissing them as an overreaction. Validate their reaction and address the issue at hand.

“It was just a joke.”


When a joke is poorly received, people may use this line to shift the blame to the listener’s interpretation rather than the joke itself.
Better Approach: Be aware of your audience and the potential impact of your jokes. If a joke offends, apologize sincerely.

“I don’t see why you’re making such a big deal out of this.”


By belittling the recipient’s concerns, this statement aims to invalidate their emotions, subtly implying that the speaker’s perspective is the more reasoned or valid.
Better Approach: Recognize and validate others’ feelings. Understand that what may seem minor to you can be significant to someone else.

“Let’s agree to disagree.”


Employed to end a contentious debate, it suggests an impasse without resolution. While it appears diplomatic, it cloaks defensiveness in the guise of mutual respect, refusing to engage in the opposing viewpoint any further.
Better Approach: If a mutual understanding seems out of reach, express openness to continuing the conversation later.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”


This phrase is a verbal barricade against further discussion when topics get too close for comfort. It signals that the person is guarding against vulnerability or confrontation.
Better Approach: If a topic is too sensitive, suggest a better time to discuss it instead of closing off communication entirely.

“You always…”

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Generalizing behavior with such absolutes escalates the conflict. The conversation then focuses on defending details rather than addressing the issue.Better Approach: Talk about specific actions or behaviors instead of using absolutes that generalize and escalate conflict.

Generalizing behavior with such absolutes escalates the conflict. The conversation then focuses on defending details rather than addressing the issue.
Better Approach: Talk about specific actions or behaviors instead of using absolutes that generalize and escalate conflict.

“I was just trying to help.”


This defense emerges when advice or action is met with pushback. The individual is portrayed as well-meaning yet misunderstood, deflecting criticism by underscoring their noble intentions.
Better Approach: Before offering help, ensure your assistance is wanted. If your actions are misinterpreted, clarify your intentions by not making excuses.

“Never mind, it’s not important.”


In response to pushback, this phrase quickly de-escalates the situation by trivializing the original point, suggesting it was not worth the dispute.
Better Approach: If you feel dismissed, express why the topic is important and encourage space to discuss concerns openly.

“No Offense, But…”


Here, the person is about to deliver possibly offensive content but attempts to neutralize its effect beforehand. It’s a classic move to dodge accountability, implying that criticism shouldn’t be taken personally.
Better Approach: Think before communicating and reconsider relaying your message respectfully.

Written by Johann H