Phrases You might Use That Unintentionally Minimize/Patronize Your Co-workers
Whether you are in charge of managing a team, head of a department or are in a role where you are required to participate frequently in meetings, responding to fellow coworker’s ideas and contributions in a way that is respectful is important.
“Well, think of the positive side.” “It can’t be as bad as all that.” “At least you have XYZ to be grateful for!”
Sometimes, the language we use can have consequences we didn’t intend for. Silver-lining types have probably had the occasion to learn this over the course of the pandemic — or at least, that’s been true for a friend of mine.
After a co-worker shared with her the toll COVID-19 had been taking on her mental health, my friend quickly went for her go-to response; attempting to cheer-up her co-worker by pointing out things to feel optimistic about. As well-meaning as this may be, her approach was not well received. Although her co-worker stayed silent at the time, she later wrote to her indicating that the response had felt dismissive and minimizing.
Often times you are not looking for a “fix” from the other person. You simply want to be heard.
Although COVID-19 has given us more opportunities to be unintentionally dismissive or patronizing , it is a type of language that most of us have, at some point, been guilty of using. Here are some phrases you may have used at work without realizing it was minimizing or even patronising to your co-workers.
- “I don’t think it’s that serious.”
If the other person is coming to you with a concern, this response essentially calls their concern invalid. Try this alternative instead: “I see your point! Here’s how I’m thinking of it…”
- “Let’s just talk about it offline.”
Context here counts. Sometimes, this age-old meeting line is totally appropriate, especially to keep meetings on track. There are time when some items will be worth separate conversations. However, if the way in which you use this phrase essentially silences the other party and ends the conversation, it is worth rethinking that response.
- “I’ll take care of it; it’s just easier if I do!”
To indicate that working with the other person is more trouble than it’s worth; even if that happens to be true; this is not the best relationship-building tactic especially if you want to get collaboration and cooperation going.
- “It doesn’t matter to me.”
If your opinion is being sought, that is a compliment and should be treated with the respect it deserves. While some people find it difficult to accept compliments ever those veiled in requests for input by way of voicing an opinion, showing interest in the person’s query, rather than brushing it aside will garner much more respect. Try this alternative “Lets talk about this a bit more shall we” or “If you want my opinion then we can certainly discuss my view on this matter.”
- “You think you are busy? Wait until you hear what is on my plate…”
This one should be pretty self-explanatory. Any language that suggests you are one-upping the other person is worth avoiding.
- “I’m still not following you.”
Having trouble catching their meaning? Try this alternative: “Could you give an example?” or “Could you put that another way?”
- “You did not have to do all that.”
Maybe they did not have to, but at any rate, they did. Recognize and acknowledge the contribution and move on.
- “Sorry, that is not a priority for me right now.”
You should absolutely protect your time and to-do list. However rather than blatantly inferring that the other party isn’t or can’t be a priority, try simply going the route of: “This is great! The soonest I’m able to help with this is this date.”
- “You can do better than that.”
This phrase may seem harmless, but as Jerry Han, Chief Marketing Executive of PrizeRebel explains, it’s problematic for two reasons.
“First, it sounds like the kind of thing a parent tells their child,” he says. “Second, it invalidates and criticizes the other person’s work, idea, presentation, etc.”
Instead, Han suggests a more constructive alternative. “‘This looks great, but I think we can do even better. What do you think?’ This compliments the other person, shows you are on the same side (using ‘we’ instead of ‘I’) and gets them to suggest improvements.” It sends a more empowering message.
10. “Right… Now back to the matter at hand.”
On one hand, Han recognizes this phrase can be useful in meetings, as it can help teams stay on track and focus on the subject at hand. “On the other hand, saying it like this completely ignores and invalidates whatever was being said previously,” Han explains.
“Instead, write down the gist of what the other person is saying, then promise to get back to the subject later,” he suggests. “I like things like, ‘that is a great idea, but I think it falls outside the scope of this meeting. Why don’t we discuss this 1-on-1 later?’”
- “I actually like that idea.”
This is another tricky phrase that seems positive but is not. “This places the focus on you and away from the person who gave the idea,” says Edgar Arroyo, President of SJD Taxi.
“It can sound like a back-handed compliment, because it may give the impression that generally you think the person does not give good ideas, so you are surprised that they have provided a good idea.”
Arroyo recommends simply using “That is a good idea” to express your approval.
- “Everyone knows that…”
Starting a sentence with this phrase can make others feel belittled. “Nobody really knows what another person knows and saying that can make the other person feel dumb or that they are missing out if they did not know something.”
Arroyo suggests “Use ‘You may know that…’ as a more neutral way of acknowledging that you are talking about something that people may know about but does not make assumptions.”
- “Good luck with that!”
“This phrase can come off as very condescending because it may indicate that you generally expect the other person to fail, but they may succeed if they have good luck,” Arroyo explains. “It can also indicate that the person does not have the skills or capability to generate results.”
Arroyo suggests a positive reframe. “You can say, ‘Feel free to let us know if you need any help,’ if you think the person is taking on a difficult task,” says .
- “You’re missing my point.”
“Someone who says this is implying that it is the other person’s fault for not understanding what has been said and that they are in fact being clear,” Arroyo explains. “However, the speaker could be at fault for not making their point clear enough or easy enough to understand for everyone.”
“It might be better to say, ‘Let me try to rephrase this to make my meaning clearer.’ This shows that you recognize that you also have a part to play in helping the other person understand you and that you are making an effort,” says Arroyo.
How many of these are yo guilty of using?
Share your list in the comments section below.