( 2 minute read )

We’re all about better communication at illumy. That’s why we created the first app to bring together text, email, and phone into searchable, threaded conversations.

But sometimes, good communication is about what you DON’T say. Here are some words you should avoid in delicate conversations—at work and in your personal life.

Attack words

Attacks on a person’s character will stop any conversation in its tracks. Why? Because our natural tendency when our ethics are questioned is to defend ourselves.

That rush to self-defense keeps us from engaging with each other in a genuine way. The conversation devolves into a shouting match, with each person believing the other is criticizing their identity.

We tend to question the character of those we disagree with because of something called dispositionist bias. That is, we see other people’s behaviors as reflective of their underlying traits—even though, in actuality, our true selves and our behavior can be very different.

The lesson: Fight dispositionist bias by reminding yourself that the other person is like you: flawed, but trying their best. Keep the conversation on an even keel by avoiding words like wrong and unprofessional.

Absolute words

Language expressed in absolutes—always, never, completely—doesn’t just make you sound dramatic. It’s also a marker of mental health.

In a big-data analysis of internet forums, absolutist language was found to be the best predictor of whether a forum member had depression: more than single-person pronouns (I, me) or even negative emotion words (lonely, sad).

In other words, people who are depressed tend to use more absolutist words. But the reverse may also be true. Using absolutes may bring down your mood by coloring everything in black and white: me vs. you, good vs. bad, and so on.

Of course, life isn’t black and white—particularly when it comes to relationships. Using absolutes in conversation can overdramatize situations and result in conflict.

The lesson: Absolutes are rare in life, so try to limit them in your conversations. Avoid words like nothing and obviously (because what’s obvious to you may not be so to the other person).

Blame words

Nobody likes being put under the gun—and getting blame pinned on you, whether justified or not, certainly qualifies.

Jim Detert, a University of Virginia professor, writes in the Harvard Business Review that assigning blame for hurt feelings is not only unhelpful but counterproductive.

“People hate being blamed for things — especially for words or actions that harmed others,” he says.

Instead of saying, “It makes me angry when you interrupt,” Detert recommends shifting focus away from your feelings and back to the main conversation. If you say “Please wait until I’m finished speaking,” you express what you want—to speak your piece—sans blame.

The lesson: Avoid linking your negative feelings to the other person’s actions. It’s ok to talk about your feelings, of course. But do so in a neutral way: “I feel like you don’t give me time to respond when we get in an argument” as opposed to “I hate how you never let me talk”.

What are some trigger words you try to avoid? Share how you try to keep conversations calm – find us @illumyinc.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.

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