10 things you should never say to someone

Even with many years of life experiences behind us, it’s easy to say things flippantly long before your brain gets into gear. While what we say often comes from the best of intentions, be that to motivate people or in the name of “tough love,” it pays to think before we speak.

 - 7 Min Read
Last updated and fact checked:
10 things you should never say to someone
Editorial Note: We earn a commission from partner links on Age Times. Commissions do not affect our writers’ or editors’ opinions or evaluations. Read our full affiliate disclosure here.

What are the things we easily say, but which garner the worst replies? Below you will find some things you should never say to someone - at least not if you want a conducive response!

1. I told you so

Yeah, we've all been there. We've made a mistake, and we know it. The last thing we need is someone else rubbing it in our face.

If someone has made a mistake, encourage them to learn from it and move forward positively.

"At least x is positive. And now you know what doesn't work. Next time you'll do so much better. We fail forward if we only learn from our mistakes, and you're clearly one who does. Just see how far you've come."

That's something that will make people pick themselves up and start over. Telling them, "I told you so," is likely only to make them either sad or defensive.

2. You should, you must, you have to

Alan Kazdin, the head of the Yale parenting unit, says that the best way to get a child to do something is to ask in a friendly manner. Being excited about it and saying, "please" will get you a much better response than "you have to do this."

If the should, must, or have to, is concerning something you think someone should do to get on in life, then phrase it as a question. "Given what you've told me now, what do you think is the best plan forward? Would it be A, or B? Or something else?"

Giving people a choice and asking their opinion (even while sharing yours) is more likely to lead to compliance with your suggestions.

3. You made a mistake—now fix it

If someone is doing a task for you and mess it up, how do you get them to fix it? Not by shouting from the rooftops about what a bad mistake they made, you won't.

If you want someone to agree to do a better job, or fix a mistake, be humble. Frame it up with how you have messed up in the past and finish it with how you know they can do an excellent job.

4. You're such a so-and-so

We're all so-and-sos. Some of us are never on time; others can't stop spending money. We're such time wasters and money spenders.

However, chances are most people are aware of their flaws. They might even want to change them. Often when we confront them, what we want is for them to change. So, the most logical solution is to offer them a path for that. Instead of shouting, "You're late again, you're such a time-waster," say, "I see you're struggling to be on time a lot. Have you ever tried this new app that helps people be on time? A friend of mine swears by it. Personally, I found a budgeting app that has helped me change my life." Or simply say, "I'm so happy you made it because I was about to leave. I really want to see you, and now I get less time with you. Maybe in the future, we can set up a time where we know you can make it?"

If you accuse someone directly of being something, they'll either get angry, defend themselves, or wallow in feeling bad about who they are. By giving them an option to become a better person, on the other hand, chances are they'll take the bait.

5. This is what's wrong with you/your life

We've all wanted to yell from the top of our lungs the things wrong with someone or their life. However, die-hard criticism usually leads to defensiveness. When you feel attacked, you defend.

If you want to point out something to someone, make a light suggestion. "I'm not sure if I'm right about this, but you seem to be struggling in this area?" "Yes." "Do you think there's anything that you can do to help you stop struggling and start thriving?" This kind of questioning will make them think, engage them in the conversation, and allow you to make suggestions.

6. I don't like it when you...

Sometimes, you do need to point out when you don't like something someone does. More helpful is usually pointing out what you do like, though. If your partner, or date, is prone to holding your hand too tight, say, "Can you please hold my hand a little lighter? I really enjoy a soft touch, and I'd love it if you could do that."

On the other hand, if you shout out that you don't like your hand being squashed, they'll feel offended. In all likelihood, they didn't mean to squash your hand. And if you tell them too often what they do wrong, they might stop trying. They'll become afraid of trying anything as you're constantly telling them what they do wrong.

7. Don't be so shy

A shy person is afraid of what others will think when they do things. They are shying away from people for that reason. Beating them up for being shy isn't going to make them open up. Praising them, helping them find confidence, showing them how to communicate—those are things that will genuinely help them.

8. It will feel better soon

Yes, it will. However, if we've just lost a loved one or are going through a hard time at work, that's not what we long to hear. We want a hug. We want encouragement. We want someone who acknowledges how we are feeling now. Once that's done, you can say something to the effect of "it will get better soon."

9. Stop wallowing

Anyone depressed or sad is focused on something in their life they perceive to be lacking or dysfunctioning. If they focus on something in their life that's going well or on positive qualities in themselves, they will feel different. However, depression is often caused by underlying trauma, a sense of having no direction after some life event, or years of having a poor self-image. You telling someone who feels lost and depressed to stop wallowing isn't going to help them. They need to do something other than getting lost in negative thoughts, yes. But what is that other thing? That's what they need to find, and that might require a lot of support and therapy, as well as new routines and goals.

There may be a time and place to tell someone to get off their ass and do something about their life. However, again, you need to make sure they know what to do. Getting off your ass is one thing, walking in the right direction another.

10. Stop being an idiot

This isn't constructive feedback. Instead, share what someone did wrong, or better yet, what they can do instead and what they're already doing great.

Things you should never say to someone

We all say some of the above things at some point in life. That's OK. But if we want to get a good response from someone and help uplift them, there are better ways of communicating. Use the above tips and see how it helps improve the responses you get. Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" is an excellent book if you're looking for even more communication tips.

Lastly, if you're feeling particularly snappy around people, maybe it's time to take a break? Travel isn't easy, but hopefully, you can go on road trips. If not, there's always country walks and strolls in the park. For most of us, taking time for ourselves (if we live with others) and engaging in activities where we can be social are musts if we are to avoid turning into permanently irritable people! And that holds even when there are no lockdowns!

See More