4 phrases that are affecting your communication, and not for the better

4 phrases that are affecting your communication, and not for the better

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Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — Words are powerful. But they sometimes elicit the wrong kind of power or influence. Here are four words or phrases that are affecting your communication for the worse and they might not be what you expect.

  • Just
  • Yes, but
  • With all due respect
  • Fine
While these words may appear benign, our everyday conversations are littered with them. But why are they so bad?

1. 'Just'

Though seemingly harmless, word just often implies a sense of lacking or apology. A recent article by Rosie Ifould on Guardian.com lists eight of the biggest do's and don’ts of conversational phrases. Among the don’ts was the word “just.”

“I just wanted to say . . .” or “It was just a thought . . .”

Ifould shared the views of Ellen Petry Leanse, who wrote a viral article where she shared her personal research on the matter. Women say “just” more than men, Leanse noted. And it wasn’t only who was saying it, but what effect the word had on the ideas being shared.

“I began to notice,” Leanse wrote,” that ‘just’ wasn’t about being polite: it was a subtle message of subordination, of deference. Sometimes it was self-effacing. Sometimes even duplicitous.” Leanse did a personal experiment, where she banished the J-word from her communication. She found that when she struck it from a certain phrase it “almost always clarified and strengthened the message.”

In cases like these, “just” just doesn’t help.

2. 'Yes, but . . .'

This is a reciprocal phrase that can morph conversations into power and opinion battles. It typically gives the message of, “Yes, I understand you, but you’re not understanding me (and I’m right.) The same article that listed “just” as a weak word, cites Rob Kendall, a conversation expert and the author of Workstorming, who said, “If you hear (yes, but) three or more times in one discussion, it’s a sign that you’re going nowhere.”

Habit 5 of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” It’s the idea that to truly communicate — to understand what the other person is saying — the key is to listen with the intent to understand. So often we half-listen to the person talking while we are mentally preparing what we want to say next. It’s especially hard to be open-minded and actively listening when we have preconceived notions of how things — and people — should be.

“Yes, but” is an example of inactive listening and not seeking to understand. When you find yourself in a conversation where this term is being thrown around more than dough in a pizza joint, take a step back and nix the “Yes, buts” and try replacing them with “Help me understand.” You might be surprised at the result.

3. 'With all due respect'

It times past, this was a polite phrase, used to show actual respect. But the meaning has changed. A post by Maeve Maddox on DailyWritingTips.com, noted that in our popular culture, “the expression has become associated more with insult than with respectful deference.”

It is a preparatory phrase which, when reaches the listener's ears, cues them to arm themselves for battle. It doesn’t set the tone for a respectful conversation or even a civil argument. It serves as a warning for a potential impending rampage to come.

If you are in moral disagreement with another and are making great efforts to communicate your differences and feelings and ideas respectfully, try nixing the above phrase altogether and simply share your thoughts in a respectful manner.

4. 'Fine'

This once innocent word has now become a catchall for the good and the bad. When we are asked how we are doing, how often is “fine” our go-to response? We could be having an awful day or even a wonderful day, but still, the word “fine” slips from our lips? Why?

Sometimes it’s out of laziness. Blogger Kelli Corcoran noted that often times we “say we’re fine because it’s easier than saying exactly how we feel or how our day has been.”

Most times we say “fine” because we don’t want to bother the other person with the details of our lives. Can you imagine standing in the checkout line at the grocery store as the checker, who is focused on finding the barcode for your kiwi, asks how you are and you say, “Actually, I’m having a really rough day. I’m glad you asked. I would love to talk about it with someone that truly cares.”

I think he might drop your kiwi.

No, we say “fine” to avoid awkward conversations and to keep our walls up. It’s not their business anyway, right?

It is understandable to not want to overshare. “Fine” can be a protective barrier for our souls. But, it can also be a barrier that keeps people out and stifles our ability to connect with the people who really matter. When our significant others know there’s something wrong, and we reply with, “I’m fine” it can shut them out of not only our situation, but ourselves — our minds and our hearts. Being vulnerable can be scary, but when we are honest with those we love and can trust, and ditch the “fine,” then we become open to connecting with people and healing from the things that are not fine in our lives.

In her landmark TED talk, Brené Brown talks about the most important thing to people: connection. We can’t connect without honest, vulnerable, communication. Words and phrases — like just; yes, but; with all due respect; and fine — can belittle us, our struggles, and others, and get in the way of what we really need — each other.

M. Elizabeth can be found on Family Share and other cool corners of the internet writing about women's issues, family, adoption, personal growth & more. She loves giant bowls of ice cream and witty humor and believes people should be real and brave.

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