17 Things You Should Never Do During a Conversation
These are the questions and comments to avoid to be a good conversationalist.
Everybody has a unique conversation style based on their personality and preferences. But if you want to ensure that your conversation goes well, there are some rules that apply universally regarding not just what you're talking about, but how you're talking about it. Whether you're chatting with a coworker, a casual acquaintance, or even a family member, here are some of the things you should never say, ask, or do in conversation.
Tell someone how they should or shouldn't feel
When someone opens up to you about how they feel about a certain situation, don't invalidate their emotions by telling them that they "shouldn't" feel that way. "The fact of the matter is that they feel the way they feel whether you think they should or shouldn't," explains Amanda Stemen, MS, LCSW, a licensed therapist in California. Judging someone for their sentiments is going to make them feel worse, so just be a shoulder to cry on and remind yourself that nobody can control their natural emotional responses.
Apologize when you don't actually feel bad
"Often we're apologizing more out of habit and it's uncomfortable for everyone," says Stemen. She urges you not to apologize for something "unless you have actually violated your morals and values and feel guilty."
And when you can, try to replace a statement of apology with one of gratitude. "I'm sorry for being late," for instance, could be tweaked to "Thank you for waiting for me." As Stemen notes, this small change "does wonders for the rapport in a conversation."
Tell someone that they're wrong
Even if you know that what someone is saying is inaccurate, you should avoid telling them that they're "wrong." "No one likes being wrong, so that will shut a person down quickly," explains Stemen. "Staying calm, providing factual evidence, and being open to hearing a different point of view will move the conversation forward in a much more productive manner."
Explain in detail how busy you are
Even if you have a seemingly never-ending to-do list, it's not something you should bring up in conversation. As transitional life strategist and reinvention expert Randi Levin explains, "giving someone a laundry list of all your commitments and obligations to demonstrate how busy you are is a negative spin on an abundant life." In any conversation, you want to "lift others up and make them feel important," and "your to-do [list] is not part of that equation."
Talk instead of listen
Nobody wants to talk to someone who barely speaks. However, it's just as inconsiderate to talk so much that the person on the other side of the conversation can't get a word in edgewise. "People need to remember to listen as much—if not more—than they talk," says journalist and etiquette expert Nick Leighton, host of the podcast Were You Raised By Wolves? "Dominating the conversation and doing all the talking is rude."
Use original pronunciations of words just to sound sophisticated
Are you the kind of person who goes to a French café and orders a kwason instead of a kruhsant? If so, Leighton urges you to keep those pronunciations to a minimum during conversation to avoid aggravating others.
Ask an acquaintance what they do for a living
It might seem harmless enough to ask a casual acquaintance what they do for a living, but Leighton points out that this question can severely backfire. "Some people don't do anything either by choice or not by choice," he explains. "If the answer comes up naturally in conversation, then great. But don't force it."
Or about their personal life
"When are you getting married?" "When are you having a baby?" "Are you pregnant?" All of these are personal questions that you should avoid asking in a conversation with someone you don't know that well or haven't seen in a long time.
"A safe bet is to keep it simple," says Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, MFT, ATR, a licensed psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist in Santa Barbara, California. "Let the other person fill you in on their details as they wish."
Ask someone if you're boring them
"It's rude to explicitly ask, 'Am I boring you?'" explains Leighton. Besides, he says, "if you feel like you have to ask this question, you probably are."
Talk about all of your accomplishments and possessions
"Turning a conversation into a game of The Price is Right by listing all of your recent acquisitions is pretentious and boring," explains Jodi R. R. Smith, the etiquette consultant behind Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Massachusetts. Just because you're super excited about your new sports car or flatscreen TV doesn't mean the person with whom you're chatting will be, too.
Avoid small talk
Most people avoid small talk because they believe it to be meaningless and dull. However, Smith says that if you know how to properly utilize this type of conversation, then it can actually be one of your most valuable tools.
"Good conversationalists are practiced at sharing intriguing tidbits while making sure to share the floor with their conversational partner," she explains. The only "true small talk conversation killers," according to the expert, are "personal wealth, failing health, or your latest eating obsession."
Gossiping might be fun in the moment, but it's only going to hurt people's feelings down the line. Plus, "gossip makes the gossiper look bad," says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, a psychotherapist and author of Dr. Romance's Guide to Finding Love Today. "When you're tempted to talk about someone else, use your grandmother's advice: If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."
Keep any critical thoughts you have during a conversation to yourself. "If you have a tendency to be self-critical, it will probably spill over and cause you to criticize others," notes Tessina, "and criticism pushes people away."
Comment on someone's appearance
Avoid telling a casual acquaintance or a colleague at work how much you adore their outfit or love their new 'do. Though you can (and absolutely should) compliment others, giving overly personal praise to someone with whom you're not close can come off as inappropriate.
When you want to say something nice, Jennifer Porter, a manners teacher and etiquette coach in Seattle, says you should "find ways to do it that don't judge [either] positively or negatively. Say something like, 'It's so great to see you looking so happy! I can tell life is treating you well.'"
Roll your eyes
"Resist all forms of eye-rolling," urges Porter. "Even in a tense conversation," you want to be the best version of yourself in order to "both show respect and never regret your behavior."
In pretty much all conversations, swearing is a major no-no. There are thousands of words in the English language better for specifically communicating emotions than curse words. When you feel the urge to curse, Porter says you should "find a substitute word that you like that's not offensive and allows you to really convey your feelings."
Make passive-aggressive comments
Whether you're conversing with a coworker or arguing with your spouse, being passive-aggressive is just as bad as being outwardly aggressive. Even if you think your aggression is subtle, "people have a high level of emotional intelligence and they know when the person in front of them is sincere and friendly [vs.] the opposite," says Maryanne Parker, founder of etiquette company Manor of Manners. "This is just a sophisticated form of being negative and bullying." And for more ways to mind your manners, here are 17 Things Polite People Never Say.
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