9 Common Things You Didn't Realize Can Harm Others

by Carina Wolff

We can all agree that the world would be a better place if we were all kinder to each other, but the problem is, we sometimes think our actions are innocent when they often have negative effects. It's important to recognize the little things you might say or do that could unintentionally harm others, because even if our intentions are benevolent, we can still make someone feel bad. But recognizing the most common offenders ahead of time can help prevent you accidentally saying or doing them in the future.

"It is important to be cautious about how we speak to others because it often sends a message about who we are and how we operate in the world," says psychotherapist Stacy Kaiser over email. "If we are rude or inconsiderate, whether we like the person or not it, reflects on how people perceive us — they may view us as rude and inconsiderate. It is also important to be cautious about how we speak to others because it will impact how they respond back to us."

Paying attention to the little details can help make you a better communicator, friend, coworker, and partner. Here are nine common things that many people do or say that can be unintentionally harmful to others.




Interrupting someone during a conversation can seem like no big deal, but it can imply that the other person's thoughts are not as important as yours. "You have decided not to listen to what the other person might say, preferring the often anxious and negative thoughts rolling around in your own imperfect mind," says therapist Stephen Duclos over email. "Interruption is an attempt at subverting a pain that we are anticipating, even if the other has no intention of engaging in a negative interaction."


Never Expressing Appreciation


Sometimes it is what we do not say that hurts another person. "Some of us seem almost genetically predisposed to not express appreciation," says Duclos. "This is hurtful. A person who makes dinner for his partner, and who takes care in doing so, will be hurt by a lack of appreciative response. Fortunately, this is a destructive relational habit that can be unlearned."


Rolling Your Eyes


It might seem funny, but rolling your eyes can actually make someone feel mocked or discredited. "Eye rolling is something I see often, and it tends to upset the person on the receiving end," says Kaiser. "Oftentimes the eye roller is not even aware that he or she is rolling their eyes, but it is still making a tremendous impact on the receiver."


Saying "It Will Be Okay" To Someone Suffering


"Most often well-meaning people offer the anecdotal 'It will be okay' to those who are going through a painful and challenging ordeal," says therapist Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW over email. "This seemingly benign comment unknowingly sends the message that the person’s suffering is a burden. It suggests that the sufferer feign optimism and conceal their hardship. This may result in people suppressing and repressing their pain. It may also create feelings of alienation and isolation, as the sufferer has to carry the truth of their malaise in private."


Being Sarcastic


"That sarcastic remark might sound funny to some, but repeated sarcasm often brings others down and breaks down trust," says psychologist Marie Fang, PsyD over email. "Excessive sarcasm can also be a sign of our own insecurities, so it's worth taking a good look at ourselves when we become overly sarcastic."


Canceling Plans Or Flaking


We all get busy, and it's common for us to overbook, commit to things out of obligation, or just forget a plan without even a second thought. "Texting has made it even easier to cancel plans with little to no repercussions," says psychotherapist Whitney Hawkins, LMFT over email. "Although everyone makes mistakes occasionally or gets the flu, an individual who consistently bails on plans sends a very strong message: 'You are just not that important to me.' We may never know the value a friend or colleague places on a particular event, and it can be extremely hurtful when their expectations do not align with your intentions or desires."


Correcting Others


You might think you're being helpful when you redo a tasks for someone or always offer corrections, but when we constantly implement our way of doing things, we imply that the other individual is wrong, incompetent, or unable to meet our expectations. "This may breed resentment or cause others to avoid helping you out of fear of rejection or embarrassment," says Hawkins. "There are several 'right' ways to accomplish a task and insisting that your way is the only way may have a negative and lasting impact on the relationship.


Asking A Woman About Having Children


Be wary about asking a woman if they plan to have children. "The road to motherhood is challenging and unattainable for many women, and you never know the behind story of someone’s pregnancy experiences," says psychologist Kimber Shelton, PhD over email. "Additionally, some women have no desire for children and it is simply annoying to have to repeatedly answer this question or to feel as if they have to explain their decisions."


Giving An Insincere Apology


Apologies are important, but saying the words "I'm sorry" isn't enough. "We can often say that we are sorry in a manner that does not communicate sincerity, which often further damages the relationship," says psychologist Anthony P. DeMaria, Ph.D over email. "Additionally, we can offer 'non-apology' apologies. Consider the scenario of someone being late to a meeting, and being told it was upsetting to the people waiting. Saying, 'I'm sorry that you get bothered so easily by these things' does not involve taking responsibility for the violation of social contract and certainly does not communicate regret."