7 phrases even well-intentioned people say that can ruin someone’s day

We’ve all been there — saying something with the best of intentions, only to realize later that our words might have struck a chord in the wrong way. 

I know I’ve done it, thinking I’m being supportive or insightful, only to see a flash of pain cross someone’s face. 

Sometimes, our well-meant words just don’t come across the way we mean them to. 

That’s why I want to talk about 7 phrases that, despite being said with good intentions, can really ruin someone’s day. 

By being mindful of our words, we can turn conversations into healing rather than hurting. Let’s dive in.

1) “Calm down”

Ah, the classic “calm down” — seemingly helpful, but more often than not, a conversation derailer. Haven’t we all uttered these words, thinking we’re defusing a tense situation? 

The thing is, telling someone to “calm down” rarely achieves its intended effect. Instead of making the other person feel soothed, it usually adds fuel to the fire. 

It’s like telling someone not to think of a pink elephant; suddenly, that’s all they can think about.

And when you say “calm down,” you might unintentionally invalidate the other person’s feelings or experiences. 

Even if you mean it in the gentlest way possible, you’re basically saying that their emotional state is not justified. And that can feel really dismissive.

Smart people steer clear of “calm down” in favor of phrases that acknowledge emotions without judgment. You might say something like, “I see you’re upset. What’s bothering you?” 

This invites dialogue and gives the other person the space to express themselves. It shows that you’re willing to listen and understand, which is often the first step to actually calming down.

2) “You look tired”

On the surface, saying “You look tired” might seem like an expression of concern or even empathy. After all, we’ve all had those days where we’re dragging ourselves around, and it feels somewhat comforting to think someone noticed. 

I’ve been the person who says it, believing I was showing sympathy.

However, this phrase can unintentionally send a different message. It can make someone feel self-conscious or even judged, as if their appearance is not up to standard. 

It could also imply that they’re not handling their responsibilities well, whether it’s a stressful job, parenting, or personal issues.

For some, especially those battling issues like insomnia, chronic fatigue, or mental health struggles, your words might hit a sensitive nerve. It serves as a reminder of the troubles they’re trying to manage, making an already tough situation even harder.

If you’re genuinely concerned about someone’s well-being, there are more tactful ways to express it. Instead of commenting on their appearance, you could say, “Is everything okay? You seem a bit off today.” 

This opens the door for them to share if they wish to, without putting them on the spot about how they look.

3) “It’s not a big deal”

How many times have we tried to comfort someone by saying, “It’s not a big deal?” 

We say it when we’re trying to put things into perspective, maybe even give the other person a more optimistic viewpoint.

But here’s the catch — what might be a molehill to you could very well be a mountain to someone else. 

Let’s say someone is distraught about missing an appointment or deadline. To you, it might seem like a minor hiccup in the grand scheme of life. 

But to them, it could be tied to deeper issues like anxiety or a fear of failure. Your well-intentioned phrase might unintentionally make them feel like their emotions aren’t valid, adding shame to their already complex feelings.

If you really want to help, try validating their emotions first. You could say, “I can see this is really stressing you out. Do you want to talk about why?” 

This shows that you respect their feelings, and it gives them the choice to share more or not.

4) “Cheer up”

pic1467 7 phrases even well-intentioned people say that can ruin someone’s day

Ah, the ever-so-common “Cheer up.” Meant to be a quick morale booster, we often toss it out when we see someone looking down or sad. 

In the past, I’ve said it with the best intentions, aiming to lift the spirits of a friend or family member.

However, these two words can inadvertently dismiss their feelings or the situation that’s causing their unhappiness. 

It implies that happiness is a switch that can be easily flipped, which we know isn’t true, especially for those going through emotional or mental struggles.

If someone is dealing with a serious issue — be it relationship troubles, health concerns, or workplace stress — telling them to “cheer up” could add to their feeling of isolation. 

They might think, “If it was that easy, don’t you think I would have done it by now?”

Instead of saying “cheer up,” why not offer a more genuine form of support? You could say something like, “I’m here for you. Do you want to talk about what’s bothering you?”

This shows that you’re open to listening without judgment and that you respect their feelings, however heavy they may be.

5) “At least you…”

The phrase “At least you…” is often spoken with kind intentions, aimed at highlighting the silver lining in someone’s cloudy situation. 

But here’s the thing — while trying to spotlight the positive, we may inadvertently make the other person feel like their problems or feelings are trivial. 

Imagine someone going through a breakup and you say, “At least you still have your friends.” True, friendship is a blessing, but this doesn’t lessen the immediate emotional pain they’re experiencing.

Moreover, it can imply that they should feel guilty for being upset in the first place, considering the “worse things” that could happen. 

This additional layer of guilt can make it even harder for them to process their genuine emotions.

If you want to help, it’s often better to offer a listening ear or ask how you can support them. Something like, “That sounds really hard, how can I be here for you?” gives the individual space to express themselves without feeling judged or minimized.

6) “There’s a better way to do this.”

Advice is almost always given in the spirit of helpfulness, but sometimes lands like a lead balloon. 

You’ve probably said phrases like, “There’s a better way to do this,” or “Here, let me help you,” thinking you’re offering a valuable tip or shortcut. I’ve done it too, genuinely believing I was being useful.

The issue is, not everyone is looking for advice or help, especially when they haven’t asked for it. When you jump in with unsolicited advice, you could unintentionally belittle the other person’s method or efforts. 

It can feel patronizing, as if their way of doing things is inherently wrong or inferior.

This is especially sensitive in professional settings, where expertise and competency are highly valued. Imagine you’re at work, wrestling with a task, and someone chimes in unasked. 

Even if their intentions are good, it can come across as a lack of faith in your abilities.

If you genuinely want to help, consider waiting for them to ask or framing your suggestion as a question. You could say, “Would you like some input on that?” or “Can I share a method that’s worked for me?” 

This approach respects their autonomy and leaves the door open for them to welcome your advice — or kindly decline it.

7) “I know how you feel”

When someone is going through a tough time, it’s a natural instinct to want to connect and empathize with them, to show them they’re not alone. 

However, “I know how you feel” is a phrase that can backfire if you haven’t actually gone through what the other person is experiencing. 

Even if you’ve faced a similar situation, your emotional response might have been entirely different. When you haven’t lived their experience, this phrase can feel dismissive or even presumptuous. 

You risk turning the conversation into a comparison rather than providing the emotional support they need.

For example, if someone is grieving the loss of a parent and you compare it to losing a pet, while both are forms of loss, they are not the same and can’t be fully understood unless lived. 

Making such a comparison could actually deepen the other person’s emotional pain, making them feel misunderstood.

If you genuinely want to be empathetic, you can opt for phrases like, “I can’t imagine how tough that must be for you,” or “How are you feeling about it?” 

These responses allow them to share more about their feelings if they wish, without feeling as though their unique experience is being generalized or misunderstood.

The road to genuine empathy

We all want to be there for the people we care about, but sometimes, even with the best intentions, our words can do more harm than good. 

I’ve been guilty of using many of these phrases, thinking I was helping when I was actually causing a small ache in someone’s day. It’s a learning process for all of us. 

The important thing is to be aware and strive for real understanding. 

By choosing our words carefully, we can create more supportive, empathetic interactions. 

And who knows? You might turn someone’s day around, instead of inadvertently ruining it.

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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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