Social interactions are part of everyday life. Between networking events, meetings with clients, chats at the water cooler with coworkers and even interactions in your personal life, having social awareness can save you from some humiliating foot-in-mouth moments.
According to Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, people who lack social awareness are “so focused on what they're going to say next–and how what other people are saying affects them–that they completely lose sight of other people.” And when you lose sight of others, you forget to consider how your response or questions might insult, offend or upset them.
Luckily, you can easily increase your social awareness, and in his article on Inc.com, Bradberry provides 9 examples of phrases to never use, as well as replacements. Here are 3 of them:
- “You look tired.” (Replacement: “Is everything OK?”)
Think about the words you associate with 'tired'…droopy eyes, grouchy, unfocused, etc. None of these are appealing, so describing someone as ‘tired’ could be received as rude. By asking if things are OK instead, you avoid assuming a person's disposition, demonstrate your concern or willingness to help, and give them the power to open up as much or as little as they want.
- “As I said before…” (Replacement: “Restate what it is you said before in a clearer and more interesting manner.”)
Using this phrase makes it sounds like you are insulted or annoyed that you have to repeat yourself. People forget things, especially when caught up in conversation about something new. As questions drive the conversation forward, those questions may distract from from the previously stated fact becoming knowledge. So instead, happily restate whatever you need to. The more times you say something to someone, the more easily that person will remember it.
- “It’s up to you” or “Whatever you want.” (Replacement: “I don’t have a strong opinion either way, but a few things to consider are…”)
One of the most frustrating interactions is asking for someone’s opinion and getting a solid “I don’t care.” If you are asked for your opinion, it means whoever is asking values your input. So rather than dismiss the question, offer an opinion of some sort. Not only will it appease their need for your input, but it will ensure they continue to come to you for your opinion.
If you are ready to improve your social relationships, start by removing these phrases (and Bradberry’s 6 others) from your repertoire. And it doesn’t stop there. Always keep the person you are speaking with your main focus. Don’t worry about your response until it is time for you to give it. The more you actively listen to and engage with others, the more you’ll pick up on the subtle cues that can prevent a potentially devastating verbal slip-up.