We all interact with various people on a daily basis. But can you always trust what they say?
I know. It’s tricky.
If you’re anything like me, you try your best to be sincere, to take people at their word, and what do you get in return?
Unfortunately, the answer is often hidden ulterior intentions masked by sickly sweet words and empty promises.
Sometimes, it can feel like you’re stuck in a maze of deception and double meanings, where every sentence could be hiding a secret agenda.
This is a pretty vicious circle as the more you naively believe and fall for people’s lies, the more you grow mistrustful and suspicious and start believing everything to be a lie.
Many of us grapple with the unsettling feeling that not everyone is as straightforward as they appear.
Some (like me) started off believing that as I said only things I meant, with conviction, everyone else surely did the same.
It was a hard fall from grace to realize that people lie and deceive and take advantage of that purity and faith in kindness.
Having learned it the hard way, I can tell you now that the signs of hidden intentions are often there – we just need to know what to look for.
So I present to you 25 phrases that might indicate someone has hidden intentions.
Some may seem a bit harsh, and you must understand that I’m not trying to make you suspicious of everyone around you.
That doesn’t turn out too good for anyone either.
However, if these phrases come up often in your conversations, it might be time to reassess your relationships and how good you are at uncovering the truth.
1) “I didn’t want to bring this up but…”
Ever had someone kick start a conversation with this phrase?
I have, and let me tell you, it’s a classic. I have to stop my eyes from rolling when I hear this, nowadays.
Dressed up nicely to soften the blow, this phrase always precedes a critique or some sort of negative feedback.
Bless them, they didn’t want to. They’re doing you a favor by bringing it up. You should be grateful, if anything…
(I’m being sarcastic).
The phrase itself seems innocent enough.
Filled with reluctance and hesitation
In reality, it’s a clever way to introduce criticism or negativity while appearing concerned and considerate, so the critique gets off the hook.
So next time you hear someone use this phrase, prepare yourself for whatever critique follows.
2) “I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but…”
Another one that has slipped past my radar more times than I care to admit.
This phrase is often used to point out something negative about you, your mannerisms, or your behavior in again a more subtle, roundabout way.
Now, before you jump ahead, do keep in mind that those who do not enjoy conflict nor giving feedback so much might use this phrase to try and convey good intentions delicately.
However, it’s usually a sneaky tactic to avoid direct confrontation, while still landing a punch.
If you hear this phrase often from one person in particular, be wary. It could be an indication of a sour character who plays games and hides their true intentions.
3) “I’m just saying…”
And what comes next?
Nothing good, that’s for sure.
This phrase often follows a controversial or provocative statement, serving as a convenient escape-out-of-jail card if the initial comment lands poorly.
It’s a way to sidestep making a mean comment yet avoiding the consequences of how that statement makes the other person feel, plus it’s incredibly dismissive.
“I’m just saying, you look kind of fat in that outfit”.
Gosh, don’t they sound like an angel?
And you can’t even get mad at them because they’re voicing their perspective.
Freedom of speech, right?
It’s an unpleasant way to escape the direct responsibility people should take for what they say, and an incredibly petty one to use regularly.
4) “Don’t take this the wrong way…”
Then comes the “but…”
We’ve all heard this one, haven’t we?
What comes next is almost always something that, frankly, is meant to be taken the wrong way.
It’s like a sandwich, of sorts. But one with really bad, foul-smelling and moldy fillings, sandwiched between semi-appealing pieces of bread.
It’s often used to soften the blow of a hurtful comment, as the speaker uses it as a shield, hoping to deflect any backlash from what they are about to say.
And yet, they say the nasty comment anyway,
If you hear this phrase, brace yourself. It might be a sign of someone trying to mask their true intentions or take a low jab at you whilst hiding behind a veil of concern.
5) “It’s not about the money…”
This one sneakily pops up with friends and in the working world.
I remember being fresh out of university and eager to dig into my professional life.
Finding what sounded like my dream job (advertised as paid, I’ll tell you now), the interviewer, who later became my boss, used this phrase when discussing my potential salary.
“It’s not about the money,” she said, “it’s about the experience you’ll gain.”
At the time, I bought into it. I was eager, naive, and just happy to be given an opportunity.
But looking back, I realize it was a tactic to get me onboard and working for free in exchange for experience (which is always valuable, but also now slightly illegal…)
If you hear this phrase, be aware.
It might be used to distract you from something that the speaker doesn’t want you to focus on – like a lower salary or a friend who doesn’t have the best code of morals when it comes to finances.
6) “To be honest with you…”
Starting off with these words gives the impression of holiness and pure truth.
But in reality, why start convincing me of your honesty anyway?
Surely honesty is a given?
Off to an immediate bad start, this if anything suggests that the speaker is about to impart either something incredibly hurtful, or a lie.
But ironically, they’re trying to convince you of their honesty before they even say get started.
7) “I hate to be the one to tell you this, but…”
Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news.
Don’t shoot the messenger, etc.
But when someone uses this phrase, they’re often doing exactly that – and they might even take a bit of pleasure in it.
Good friends will usually protect you, tell you the truth when needed, but certainly never relish in your misfortune.
People who use this phrase however tend to use it to deliver bad news while appearing falsely empathetic.
8) “Trust me…”
This one is a big red flag.
Do we not trust each other already?
As with starting off with mentioning honesty, if someone needs to repeatedly assure you of their trustworthiness, there’s a good chance they’re trying to hide something.
Trustworthy people don’t shout about it from rooftops, nor constantly feel the need to remind you.
Plus, trust should be earned through actions, not empty words like these.
9) “I don’t mean to be rude, but…”
When someone starts a sentence like this, brace yourself: rudeness is steamrolling towards you.
These words are often used to make some half-hearted apology or horrible criticism seem a little nicer.
But disregard the fact that the speaker is attempting to make themselves look better and as if they have no other choice.
10) “I’m just trying to help…”
Whatever ‘help’ they’re offering probably involves criticizing you or doing such a bad job, they try to absolve themselves from any guilt by pleading all doe-eyed.
Plus, this phrase suggests the speaker might be just trying to help, but their real intention could be to assert control or superiority. The end result also tends to be you losing confidence in your own actions.
11) “No offense, but…”
Quickly followed by the offensive part!
Similar to number 9, this phrase is typically followed by an offensive comment.
It’s a way for the speaker to wash their hands of any responsibility for your reaction.
I hate this one so adamantly. As soon as I hear these words tumbling out of someone’s mouth, I brace myself for whatever offense or criticism is coming.
If you wish to give constructive feedback, do so. But do it kindly and appropriately without these silly introductory phrases that conceal an unpleasant character.
12) “I don’t want to be that guy/gal/person, but…”
Another stellar method used by people who want to voice criticism or negativity without taking responsibility for it.
By stating this, they become that very person.
Yet they seem oblivious to the fact that this very introduction immediately positions them in whatever role they’re attempting to avoid.
13) “Between you and me…”
Next comes the spilling of sordid secrets and gossip.
And this phrase creates an illusion of trust and intimacy when in fact, it may simply be a maneuver to spread gossip or confidential information.
They’re like using this to tell your secrets, too…
14) “I was just joking…”
Screw you for taking that hurtful comment seriously and getting upset!
Can’t you just take a joke!
When someone says something hurtful and then tries to pass it off as a joke, they’re usually trying to avoid taking accountability for their words.
If a joke lands badly with someone, accept responsibility.
You don’t dictate how other people feel nor how they respond to what you say – but you are responsible for the words that leave your mouth.
15) “I might be wrong, but…”
This phrase is often used to share controversial or negative opinions while avoiding backlash.
It gives the speaker an easy exit if their comment is not well received, or if they are just plain wrong.
16) “I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, but…”
Enter, stage right the complaining!
If someone uses this phrase, they’re almost undoubtedly about to complain about something.
It’s a way to present these grievances while trying to avoid appearing negative or whiny.
17) “Just between us…”
Similar to number 13, this phrase is often used when sharing gossip or confidential information.
It creates a false sense of trust and confidentiality, and I can almost promise you that whatever is being shared will not stay between the two of you. Nor will anything you dare to impart.
18) “As far as I know…”
Used when someone wants to share information they’re not entirely sure about, this allows them to avoid taking full responsibility for the accuracy of the information.
It’s also a favorite amongst the gossipers out there.
Imagine a table filled with leering neighbors gossiping about the new family in town.
“As far as I know” will be followed by all sorts of accusations and fake assumptions – most of which will be far from pleasant.
19) “I’m not trying to be difficult, but…”
By now you’ve hopefully picked up on the pattern.
Their next move is to be difficult. And how very much so.
Maybe they’re even picking an argument or saying hurtful things.
But as they’ve said, they’re not trying to…
Still, this doesn’t let them off the hook.
20) “Don’t take this personally, but…”
I shudder at the thought of even hearing this.
This phrase is almost always followed by personal criticism.
It’s a way for the speaker to distance themselves from the emotional impact of their words, yet still deliver what is usually a caustic and harsh denigration of someone.
21) “I’m only telling you for your own good”
They’re not telling you something particularly nice, are they.
Probably about how you look or how you’ve been behaving.
But in incorporating this statement, they make it seem as if they’re not insulting you.
They’re doing you a favor.
22) “I don’t want to brag, but…”
Let me brag!
But I can’t, I don’t want to…
But I’ll do it anyway.
This is a milk-curdling way to boast while trying to appear humble, and tends to make you look rather arrogant.
23) “I don’t want to argue, but…”
If someone starts a sentence like this, chances are they’re about to start an argument.
Or they’re saying something so hurtful, they know you’ll likely react badly.
Yet, they say it anyway…
24) “I don’t want to upset you, but…”
As above, this softens the blow of what is usually a negative or callous comment.
The speaker tries to appear as if they too are so aggrieved in sharing this information, in an attempt to soften the bow.
25) “You’re too good for me”
I’ll admit, I’ve fallen for this myself.
If the speaker thinks I’m that good, I must be amazing, right?
It tends to probe you (the recipient) into begging and
While it seems flattering at first glance, this phrase can sometimes be used as a manipulative tactic in relationships.
It prompts the recipient person to go out of their way to prove that they can lower their standards, that they do think the speaker worthy, that they can somehow make it work.
In saying this, the speaker is also lowering the standards you perceive them through, which in turn lets them get away with poorer behavior.
Remember, language is powerful and it can reveal far more than we expect.
These phrases are not foolproof indicators of hidden intentions, but they might provide some clues if you do notice yourself hearing them time and time again.
So, now that you’re prepared, pay a bit more attention to the speaker the next time one of these phrases makes an appearance.
Apply also the wider context to the conversation, but you might well just uncover something unexpected.