If you want to improve your communication skills, stop using these 10 over-used phrases

Language is full of beautiful intricacies and subtle nuances, and yet all some people can come up with is, “It is what it is.”

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of over-used phrases out there that make sense when used in the right context.

After all, cliché is only cliché because it’s been proven to work.

But if you want to excel at the communication game, it may be a good idea to sharpen your vocabulary and throw out some phrases that do you more harm than good.

Starting with the above-mentioned…

1) “It is what it is”

Look, “It is what it is” has its time and place.

But if your friend is struggling or if you’re trying to come to an agreement with your partner, it’s not one of them.

While this little phrase signals acceptance and peace, it could also be a sign of giving up or a lack of compassion depending on the context.

If your friend’s feeling down because their dog got lost, “It is what it is” is the least helpful thing you could say.

And if you’re struggling yourself, the phrase usually just means that you don’t want to talk about it and are brushing the issue under the carpet because you don’t want to open up.

But we can do better than that. When we have no clue what to say to a grieving friend, we can just admit that: “This situation is so hard, I honestly don’t even know what to say. But I’m here for you.”

When we don’t want to discuss our problems with somebody, we can simply explain it: “I don’t feel like talking about it right now. I could use some distraction, though, maybe we could go on a walk?”

Let’s aim for more honesty and less of “It is what it is.”

2) “Hey, look on the bright side”

While I get the rationale behind this phrase – if someone’s struggling, you might think that pointing out the good things in life will cheer them up – focusing on positivity too much can do more harm than good.

The bright side isn’t always where people want to be. And that’s okay.

Negative feelings aren’t “negative” per se. They serve a purpose and they deserve to be felt.

If your friend is angry, upset, or sad, try asking them what it is they need right now. 

Would they like to stay in their anger for a bit so that they can process it? Or would they appreciate a positive distraction? Do they just want to vent or are they looking for advice?

It’s more than okay to ask these questions because you can’t see into somebody else’s head, so inquiring about their thought processes can help them feel understood and help you navigate the situation a bit better.

3) “Everything happens for a reason”

On a similar note, “Everything happens for a reason” is a common word of advice when you’re going through a rough time.

But the issue is that it’s no advice at all. It’s just a phrase used to offer some solace, and yet it rarely does what it says on the label.

More often than not, it’s just a fluffy word that fills in the void but provides no sustenance.

If everything happens for a reason, why are you struggling? What’s the reason? And why should you believe this philosophy in the first place?

It’s easy to see the point of things once you’ve moved past them, but whilst you’re deep in it, you don’t have that luxury.

Therefore, it’s often better to avoid this little phrase and to offer some real advice tailored to the situation at hand instead.

4) “You should…”

Of course, the manner in which you go about giving advice matters a great deal.

If Kylie vents to Jake about her annoying co-worker and Jake immediately says, “You should confront her and talk this out. You should be more assertive. You should stand up for yourself,” there’s a high chance Kylie will only get more upset.


Because she isn’t looking for a practical solution. She’s looking for emotional support. If Jake asked her what it is she needs before jumping to “You should” straight away, he’d know that.

And even if Kylie did want practical advice, “You should” is still quite the buzzkill. It sounds too contemptuous.

Instead, opt for: “It might be a good idea to…”

5) “I’m fine”

Are you? Because pouting your lips, crossing your arms, and refusing to talk about what’s bothering you doesn’t seem “fine” to me.

“I’m fine” is way too over-used. What’s more, it can be very harmful to our relationships with others because it works as a band-aid that you plaster over a broken glass to hide the cracks.

Of course, the water just leaks out anyway.

Instead of shrugging your shoulders and saying you’re fine, try: “I’m still processing my feelings and thinking it over. Can we discuss it in a few hours?”

6) “Whatever”

phrases someone lacks maturity and wisdom If you want to improve your communication skills, stop using these 10 over-used phrases

“Whatever” is very similar to “I’m fine” in so that it signals withdrawal.

Instead of talking things through or standing your ground and trying to reach a compromise, you just give up – but not without making sure the other person knows how upset you are.

You may not have realized it before, but this is exactly why “Whatever” is actually quite passive-aggressive, especially when it’s accompanied by an eye roll or other body language signs that point toward frustration.

But passive aggressiveness never solves anything. It only upsets everyone even more, souring the atmosphere and putting up more walls between us.

Instead of “Whatever”, try saying what you really think: “I don’t agree, how about we try option C?”

7) “With all due respect”

“With all due respect, I am now going to disrespect you.”

That’s basically what this little phrase says. And considering how rude the phrase can be when offensive words follow in its footsteps, it’s quite surprising that it’s so common.

People use this phrase all the time, don’t they?

“With all due respect, I think you have it all wrong.”

“With all due respect, I despise your lifestyle.”

I could go on and on, but I don’t think we have to. You and I both know that “With all due respect” functions as a prelude to a disrespectful sentence. We may think that it’ll lessen the blow, but really, it just makes everything worse.

Next time, just skip these four words. They are nothing but fluff anyway.

8) “Let’s think outside the box”

…and let’s do that by saying one of the most over-used phrases ever.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with thinking outside the box. In fact, it’s often encouraged.

“Thinking outside the box” is basically another term for creativity, uniqueness, and the courage to be different.

But let’s be honest with each other – corporate culture has now used this phrase to the point of exhaustion.

There are other ways to get the point across. For example, one of my friends likes to say, “I want bad ideas only.”

When everyone tries to think of “bad” ideas, they’re actually much more likely to come up with something unique because it requires much more bravery to put yourself out there.

9) “Literally”

I literally grew up using “literally” all the time. Literally.

And yes, it was very annoying.

“Literally” is one of those words that come in handy when you want to stress a point, however, most people just throw it about whenever they please. Which is often.

The issue is that “Literally” doesn’t really sound smart. It sounds like you’re overusing an already over-used phrase.

Tone it down. You’ll soon find that you don’t need “Literally” in every third sentence.

10) “Like”

Finally, “Like” is everyone’s favorite, isn’t it?

It’s just such lovely fluff. It doesn’t really mean anything, and yet it gives us the opportunity to pause, think our words through, and string sentences together.

While all that’s good and well, the truth is that “Like” also makes us sound a little silly.

“I went to the supermarket and, like, they didn’t have any almond milk, so I bought, like, soy.”

I don’t think this point needs any further explanation. If you use “Like” too much, you know what to do.

Throw it out.

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Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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