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6 "Polite" Things You're Doing That Are Actually Rude, Etiquette Experts Say

These common social blunders are a big no-no—here's what to do instead.

Ever heard the expression, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions?" Basically, even when you mean well, you can still end up making a hurtful mistake. For instance, let's say you're out to dinner with a friend and repeatedly insist on paying, despite their desire to split the bill. Your heart is in the right place—but what if your friend takes offense? What if they perceive your insistence as you assuming they can't afford to pay their half of the meal? This is just one example of how sometimes, even when you think you're being polite, you're actually being rude.

The first step, of course, is awareness: If you can identify your social slip-ups, you can avoid them at all costs in the future. Ahead, etiquette experts share some of these common blunders—along with guidance on what to do instead.

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Arriving too early to a party to help the host.

Woman Hosting a Dinner Party {Holiday Depression}

It may seem like a thoughtful move to try and help a host or hostess set up for their event—but think twice before you show up early, says etiquette expert Lisa Mirza Grotts.

Unless the host specifically asked you to come over before other guests, your early arrival may end up stressing them out—which, obviously, is the opposite of what you're trying to do. Having you show up unexpectedly will force them to rush around and find a task for you to do while they're still getting ready themselves.

If you want to pitch in, ask the host first whether or not they need help with anything, and let them dictate what time you should get there. And if you arrive early by accident—say, because there was less traffic than expected—Grotts recommends just driving around the block a few times.

Telling people to look on the bright side.

man apologizing to his friend talking while getting a cup of coffee

Maintaining an optimistic mindset is great—but when you push that on other people without affirming their emotions first, that can be problematic. This is known as "toxic positivity," and it often sends the message to the other person that it's not OK to feel sad, disappointed, frustrated, etc.

"While reassurance is often seen as a kind gesture, it can sometimes dismiss or invalidate someone's pain or concerns," explains Avigail Lev, a psychotherapist and director of the Bay Area CBT Center. "It may make the person feel pressured to believe that everything is okay even when they are experiencing difficulties."

So, the next time your friend is upset about something, aim to validate their experience rather than minimize it. Instead of saying, "It could be so much worse, though!" or, "But you have so much to be grateful for," try saying, "That sounds so difficult, I'm really sorry this is happening to you" or, "It totally makes sense that you're feeling down, is there anything I can do to make things better?"

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Offering unsolicited advice.

It may be instinctual to give someone advice when they share a problem with you—whether it involves parenting, dealing with a difficult boss, or working through a relationship rough patch. But according to Grotts, it's never a good idea to dole out the suggestions unless they've explicitly asked for it.

"This can come across as intrusive or implying that the person is incapable of handling the situation on their own," she explains.

Very often, someone just needs to vent—so, the best thing you can do is simply listen to their problem, and then ask whether or not they're interested in your advice before sharing it.

By the way—the same goes for jumping in to help someone with a task when they haven't asked for your assistance, says Grotts.

Complimenting someone's body.

Friend shopping helping pick out a top

While it may seem like a nice gesture to compliment someone on how their body looks, this can definitely backfire. That's why Olivia Howell, a certified life coach and co-founder/CEO at Fresh Starts Registry, advises avoiding it.

For example, "Wow, you look amazing—did you lose weight?" can trigger all kinds of insecurities about how they looked before. If their weight loss was unintentional—say, due to a health problem or depression—your comment can come across as insensitive.

And if the person is currently struggling with an eating disorder, or has a history of disordered eating, you could be unintentionally fueling that problem by reinforcing the idea that thinner is better.

That's not to say you shouldn't give compliments—just focus on something other than their body, like their skills, personality traits, or how they make you feel. For example, Howell recommends saying something like, "You have amazing energy!" or "You always make me laugh."

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Constantly relating someone's experience back to yours.

group of friends talking outside things you should never say to a single parent

It's human nature to relate someone's experiences back to your own—that's how we understand each other and make connections. That said, it can come across as rude and self-centered.

"It's important to recognize that sometimes people just need to express their feelings without being immediately related to or compared with," explains Grotts. "It can unintentionally shift the focus away from the person's own experience and make them feel unheard or misunderstood."

So, when a friend is trying to share their joy or their pain with you, try to avoid immediately pulling the attention back to you by sharing a story from your own life.

Moreover, resist the urge to say things like, "I know exactly how you're feeling." You may think that you do, but everyone's experiences are unique, and implying that you understand the depths of someone's pain can sometimes feel invalidating.

Apologizing excessively.

Young woman sitting in stylish cafe apologizing, gesturing and searching for an excuse to tell her boyfriend

Do you tend to say "I'm sorry" a lot as a knee-jerk reaction, even for things you don't really need to apologize for? This is a common habit—but it's definitely one you'll want to break, both for your sake and the people around you.

Every time you say "sorry" for something minor or beyond your control, you're putting the responsibility on the other person to soothe you by saying, "That's OK," or, "It's no big deal," when in reality it's up to you to recognize that there's no need to apologize in the first place.

"This can give the impression of low self-confidence or seeking constant reassurance," Grotts tells Best Life. "Also, apologizing over and over again for the same behavior while not changing the behavior is manipulation—not remorse. While apologies have their place, using them sparingly and genuinely when appropriate can make them more meaningful."

Rebecca Strong
Rebecca Strong is a Boston-based freelance health/wellness, lifestyle, and travel writer. Read more
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