People with ‘poor speech etiquette' always use these 7 ‘rude' phrases, says public speaking expert

Francesco Carta fotografo

We all have to communicate with people on a daily basis, so it's inevitable that we'll occasionally be put off, if not downright offended, by the things we hear. But consider the possibility that sometimes you may be guilty of rubbing people the wrong way.

As a public speaking trainer, I always urge people to think carefully about their listeners before speaking. It's impossible to evaluate every word ahead of time, but it's helpful to be aware of phrases or attitudes that keep us from communicating effectively. 

Here are seven rude phrases that people with poor speech etiquette always use — and what to say instead:

1. "Do you want to ...?"

This phrase is great when you're offering someone a choice ("Do you want to go to lunch with me?"). But as a way of delivering orders ("Do you want to take out the trash?"), its indirect fake-politeness comes across as belittling.

What to say instead: State your request directly. It's courteous to broach a request by asking, "Will you do me a favor?" After all, people generally like to pitch in. But they don't like to feel manipulated.

2. "Here's the thing ..."

This phrase insists that whatever follows will be the final, authoritative take on the subject at hand. Even when used inadvertently, it can sound a bit self-important. Truly authoritative people don't tend to waste time on throat-clearing statements.

What to say instead: If you're offering an opinion, consider prefacing your remarks with "I think ..." These two words remove any suggestion that you're pompously issuing a declaration. 

3. "Right?"

In recent years, it's become normalized for this pushy rhetorical nudge to follow questions, especially in interviews with athletes and politicians. ("This is the most important stretch of the season, right?" or "We've never seen a circumstance like this, right?")

At best, it's a useless bit of filler. But it can also feel like a manipulative insistence upon agreement.

What to say instead: If you want someone's opinion, ask for it in a neutral way, rather than demanding confirmation: "I can't think of a more critical moment for the team. Can you?"

4. "Well, figure out a way."

This phrase is a conversation ender. It's mean! While it's important to delegate, leadership demands that if an employee needs help or tries to communicate about a roadblock, your job is to help them work through it — not to insult them. 

Don't miss: Stop asking ‘How are you?’ Harvard researchers say this is what successful people do when making small talk

What to say instead: Warmer language and an open approach will always encourage better exploration of solutions. A simple shift might be to say: "Well, let's talk about it and figure out a way."

5. "It is what it is."

In my experience, this phrase is usually used as shorthand for "stop complaining." If someone is asking for sympathy or assistance, you may or may not wish (or have time) to help them, but at least be kind about ending the conversation.

What to say instead: Try offering a bit of curiosity and empathy. You don't need to be phony or overly demonstrative. But saying something as simple as, "That's tough. I'm sorry you're going through that," can make a difference by allowing the other person to feel heard.

6. "Obviously ..."

This word subtly or not-so-subtly conveys that anyone disagreeing with the speaker is wrong. Even if you don't realize it, using it can make you seem arrogant.

What to say instead: Skip it altogether and remember that silence can be a beautiful thing. The most effective speakers know that proving your superiority or correctness is a waste of time and wins you no friends.

7. "If you want my honest opinion ..." (or, "I was just joking.")

First of all, did anyone ask for your opinion? If so, they probably don't expect or need a rude response masquerading as honesty. 

What to say instead: People want help, support and solutions. Saying "maybe" instead of offering your "honest opinion" is a perfectly fine preface. Saying "sorry" if a rude comment falls flat is far more productive than a faux-diplomatic justification for spite.

John Bowe is a speech trainer, award-winning journalist, and author of "I Have Something to Say: Mastering the Art of Public Speaking in an Age of Disconnection."  He has contributed to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, GQ, McSweeney's, This American Life, and many others. Visit his website here and follow him on LinkedIn.

Don't miss:

Want to be smarter and more successful with your money, work & life? Sign up for our new newsletter here

Get CNBC's free Warren Buffett Guide to Investing, which distills the billionaire's No. 1 best piece of advice for regular investors, do's and don'ts, and three key investing principles into a clear and simple guidebook.

Copyright CNBC
Contact Us