It's so easy to say something rude without meaning to at all. Suddenly one extra word or an unintentional phrasing choice makes it sound like you're offending another person, when you actually meant to say something kind. It's impossible to completely avoid putting your foot in your mouth, so to speak, but having a good idea of how certain phrases come across can help you better say what you mean. These nice
comments that can actually come off as rude can be tweaked pretty easily, according to experts, with just a little extra consideration of how the other person could perceive them.
Asking when someone's getting married, getting pregnant, or whether they are already pregnant are some sensitive subjects that it's best to avoid bringing up in most situations, Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, MFT, ATR, a licensed psychotherapist and owner of
Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle. Since you probably don't know the difficulties of someone's situation, you don't want to cause unintentional harm by bringing up something that could be very hard for them to talk about. Instead, a good rule of thumb is to ask "What have you been up to lately?" to let them share only what they're ready to tell you about, she says.
Besides these generally tricky topics though, there are some sneakier comments that don't initially seem like they'll cause trouble at all. According to experts, here are some nice
comments that can come across as rude or insensitive.
Telling someone that they seem like they're doing great might seem like a huge compliment. But you never really know how someone is doing, especially if you aren't very close with them, so phrasing things this way isn't necessarily a great choice. "For people with mental illness or
high-functioning anxiety or depression these phrases can feel invalidating and unsupportive," Erica Hornthal, LCPC, BC-DMT, tells Bustle. Instead, try asking how they are feeling, or simply saying, "I hope you're doing well." Those options give the other person the opportunity to open up if they choose to without making them feel misunderstood.
If someone has been telling you about something great that's happened in their life, saying "that's amazing" might seem like an appropriate response. But
Dr. Wayne Pernell, a global leadership coach with a PhD in clinical psychology, tells Bustle that this is a phrase that could be negatively misconstrued. "Amazing is such a generalized term these days, it's often a cover up for when we're either jealous or simply not listening," he says. Instead, respond by saying "That's fantastic! Tell me more." This reaction will show that you're genuinely interested and engaged.
"You Should Have Reached Out"
When a friend opens up about something hard that they've recently been through, you might be tempted to say "You should have reached out" to show them that you're there for them. While this instinct may be nice,
phrasing it this way probably won't be perceived the way you want it to be. "Should," specifically, can put the other person down, says Dr. Pernell. Instead of telling someone what they should have done in the past, look to the future, he says. For example, you could say, "Please feel free to reach out to me in the future. I'm here for you."
"This Is Better Than I Expected"
Whether you've just seen a friend's comedy show or they've shown you the blanket they've been knitting for months, replying with "This is better than I expected"
seems nice, but is actually rude, counselor and life coach Susan Haworth, tells Bustle. This falls into a category of backhanded compliments (sometimes called left-handed compliments), she says, which are statements that on the surface seem like compliments but may be criticisms. Try saying something that doesn't reveal that you had low expectations for them instead, like "This is great" or "I'm so impressed."
"Unless you’re talking to a child, or are straight-out flirting, this is a phrase that you might think is nice but isn’t,"
Adina Mahalli, MSW, a certified mental health expert and consultant for Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. "An adult isn’t ‘cute’ and calling them so comes off as patronizing. There’s no better way to belittle someone than by calling them ‘cute.'" While telling someone they're cute might come off as passive-aggressive, try to think of a more constructive way to say what you mean. If you aren't flirting, try something more subtle like "I like your shirt."
"Tell Me Why You Wear That"
You might think that asking someone about their cultural or religious attire is a nice way to show interest in them, but that isn't always true. "While being curious about someone’s attire isn’t offensive in and of itself, unless you’re really looking to gain a better appreciation of someone’s culture," says Mahalli, "this
question often comes off more judgmental than it does intrigued." If you know someone who wears a hijab, for example, do some of your own research to learn the basics of its signifigance and its origins. Then, if you're close to the person wearing it, you can give them the opportunity to share more about why they personally choose to wear a hijab, instead of putting the pressure on them to fully educate you.
It may be fine to tell your best friend that they clean up nicely, but to most other people, this can seem like a backhanded compliment. "It can come off as if you don't think they look nice or good on an ordinary day," Lucy Harris, a relationship expert and CEO of
Hello Baby Bump, tells Bustle. "Instead, you could say something like as simple as 'You look great!' or 'I love that outfit,'" she says.
"I See You Cut Your Hair"
You might think that acknowledging a physical change in someone is a good thing because it shows that you're attentive, but pointing out a difference without giving a compliment could come off as rude. "This makes people feel anxious and uncomfortable because you’re not giving them feedback,"
Dr. Jane Greer, a therapist and relationship expert and author of tells Bustle. "Instead of saying, 'Did you cut your hair?' say, 'Your new haircut looks really nice on you,'" she says. If you genuinely don't like the change, don't feel compelled to mention it until they do. What About Me?,
No matter how good your intentions are, take a second to consider how a comment might make the other person feel before saying it. If it could be misconstrued, try wording things differently.