12 phrases respectful people wouldn’t dream of using (so you shouldn’t either)

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To respect others means to treat them with courtesy and consideration.

This includes speaking to them in a manner that acknowledges their worth.

And to a truly respectful person, everyone has worth.

There are certain phrases that respectful people would simply never dream of using, regardless of their audience.

We’ve rounded up our 12 (least) favorite phrases, and some of them may surprise you:

1. “Sit down and shut up”

It doesn’t get much more disrespectful than this.

Perhaps you might yell it at your dog if they were barking uncontrollably—but not a human being (and even then, it’s pretty disrespectful to the dog).

It’s an attempt to forcibly silence another and disregard valid points they may be making, as well as important needs they may be trying to communicate.

Some parents or teachers yell this phrase at children when they’re demonstrating ‘unwanted’ behavior to try and regain control and exert their authority.

But in reality, all it does is paint the parent or teacher as dismissive and demeaning.

Whether it’s a child or adult, someone you know, or a stranger, it’s completely unacceptable to speak to someone in this way.

2. “Calm down, you’re overreacting”

This is used to both invalidate someone’s feelings and control their behavior.

It’s often used by parents when they don’t want to deal with their child’s unwanted or irritating emotions but is also used in relationships to avoid having to admit responsibility for something or acknowledge wrongdoing.

As a result, the person using the phrase projects their negativity onto the other person and implies that they’re in the wrong for being upset.

Furthermore, they’re implying that the one who’s upset is the only person who thinks that there’s an issue here.

3. “It’s not that hard, why can’t you do this?”

We all have different strengths and abilities, as well as areas in which we struggle or even fail. For some, the capacity to do something can even fluctuate from one time to the next.

As a result, something that may come easily to you may be excruciatingly difficult for another, and vice versa.

Using a phrase like this shames other people for not being able to do things with the same ease that you (or others) can, and it crushes their self-esteem.

It is most often used for perceived shortcomings that aren’t overt.

For example, most people would never think of telling a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy that walking “Isn’t that difficult”, because it’s obvious that they can’t do so without assistance and thus they have an ‘excuse’.

But in contrast, someone who struggles with maths, spelling, or executive function may be mocked because they’re seen to have ‘no valid reason’ for struggling.

4. “You always…” or “You never…”

Absolutism is never a good approach to take in a conversation with anyone.

People aren’t machines, and it’s highly unlikely that they “always” or “never” do or say certain things.

Sweeping generalizations like this feel like an attack, which inevitably puts the other person into a defensive mindset—especially since they’re unlikely to be true.

This approach is often used by people who struggle with black-and-white thinking or cognitive distortions such as overgeneralization or negative filtering.

For example, if a partner who usually does their fair share around the house has taken a bit of a backseat due to work or personal obligations, they may suddenly be accused of “never” helping out.

This is obviously untrue, and it is an unfair attack using generalized accusation.

5. “You’re being irrational”

This response is often used by a person who feels they’re losing control of a conversation or situation. Or by someone who feels their opinion or argument is the only reasonable, logical truth.

For example, if they’re having a debate and find they’re about to be proven wrong by their opponent, they may try to gaslight them into questioning the validity of their evidence by implying that they’re being irrational, hysterical, or otherwise emotionally unbalanced.

It’s immensely disrespectful and is usually employed so that the one losing control can try to regain the upper hand, instead of conceding their error or defeat.

This approach also disregards situations in which another person’s beliefs have just as much validity as one’s own, even if they’re markedly different.

As an example, those who believe that their faith (be that in religion, a scientific theory, etc.) is superior to another may stoop to calling others irrational or superstitious to maintain their sense of righteousness and superiority.

6. “Why can’t you be more like [someone else]?”

Many parents and partners do their loved ones immense harm when they ask them this question.

It tells them straight out that they aren’t good enough as they are, and would be significantly better, more appealing, or more loved, if they were more like someone else, whether in appearance, mannerisms, life choices, or anything else.

This could be a sibling, friend, colleague, or anyone else who’s considered to be more palatable than they are.

But that person can’t be someone else because they aren’t them. Each person is an individual and should be accepted as they are, not as you want them to be.

If your kid prefers to wear yoga pants instead of jeans, don’t keep buying them jeans to try and encourage them to conform to what you think is “normal”, or how they “should” be. Just let them be what they are, and love them for it.

7. “I expected better from you”

This is an incredibly manipulative phrase that’s often used to control people into behaving the way someone else wants them to.

It implies a misplaced sense of superiority and holier-than-thou-ism, with the additional implication that the person’s actions were ‘wrong’, rather than simply different.

While someone may have expectations of others based on their own morals, ethics, or personal preferences, they don’t have the right to impose those expectations on them.

They may hope that they’ll behave a certain way, but implying that they’ve been disappointed by another’s autonomous life choices is unfair, and immensely disrespectful.

8. “You’re just being difficult”

As with so many other items on this list, this phrase is meant to coerce someone into doing something they don’t want to do.

It undermines their sovereignty and implies that there’s no valid reasoning behind their refusal: they’re simply being defiant and disobedient for no good reason whatsoever.

Many people assume that they know the reasons behind another’s intention, and end up accusing them of such based on their own assumptions.

Or they assume that because they wouldn’t react that way, it’s not a valid and genuine reaction.

This is astonishingly disrespectful and completely lacking in empathy. Just because you don’t understand someone else’s reasons for behaving a certain way, doesn’t mean they aren’t real and valid.

9. “I’m sorry you feel that way”

Ugh.

Anyone who’s been on the receiving end of a non-apology like this one knows that it doesn’t fix anything. In fact, it usually makes things significantly worse.

If a person respects the person they’ve wronged, they’ll apologize to them sincerely.

This awful faux ‘apology’ abdicates all personal responsibility and puts the onus on the one wronged, as though their reaction is ridiculous rather than valid and worthy of acknowledgment.

10. “You’re too old/young to understand.”

As far as condescension goes, this phrase is offensive on countless levels.

For one, it implies that the person being spoken to is incapable of comprehension because they’re either too young to grasp the concept, or so old that it’s inconceivable that they’ll be able to relate or ‘get it’.

Comprehension of ideas, techniques, and so on is not age-dependent. It’s dependent on being open to learning and experiencing new things – something that young and old alike can be equally good (or bad) at.

11. “No offense, but…”

…[Insert offensive comment here].

Because you can guarantee that anything that follows this preamble will be offensive.

Many people use this strategy to ‘soften’ the awful things that are about to come out of their mouths, with the implication that their intention isn’t to upset anyone.

In their minds, this places responsibility on the listener: if they choose to take offense, that’s on them since the disclaimer was put in place beforehand.

It’s essentially a means of self-preservation and self-absolution for the wrongdoing they’re about to commit.

12. “Dear”, “sweetie”, or similarly condescending pet name

This is contextual, as it changes meaning and intention depending on who’s saying it.

For example, if your grandmother calls you ‘dear’ or ‘sweetie’, she’s likely doing so in an affectionate manner. In contrast, if a colleague calls you either, it’s condescending.

In situations like the latter, a pet name is used in a demeaning manner to undermine or invalidate another person.

It’s often used by someone who may be physically older, but less experienced or knowledgeable in a particular topic.

As such, if they’re feeling insecure or challenged on a subject or skill in which they believe themselves to be well versed, they’ll put the other person down to regain a feeling of superiority and dominance.

——

As you can see, the phrases listed above are disrespectful on so many levels.

You may consider yourself to be a genteel, respectful person who strives to treat others with courtesy and dignity, yet perhaps you realize some of these have slipped out of your mouth over the years.

Don’t beat yourself up, you’re only human. But do ensure that from this day forward they are forever stricken from your vocabulary.

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About The Author

Finn Robinson has spent the past few decades travelling the globe and honing his skills in bodywork, holistic health, and environmental stewardship. In his role as a personal trainer and fitness coach, he’s acted as an informal counselor to clients and friends alike, drawing upon his own life experience as well as his studies in both Eastern and Western philosophies. For him, every day is an opportunity to be of service to others in the hope of sowing seeds for a better world.