The 10 Worst Things People Say at the Start of Conversations

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Start a sentence with “It's none of my business but…” and watch people get pale.

KEY POINTS

  • The top-10 worst conversational openers all have something in common.
  • Narcissists are experts are sabotaging their conversational partners by seeming to ask questions that are actually attacks.
  • Asking "Do you remember what you said to me a long time ago that still genuinely hurts my feelings?" will probably not end in a hug and kiss.
  • You can stop these conversational sabotages before they explode into actual bad emotional eruptions. Learn to take back control of the dialogue.

1. “We should talk. For real."

2. "Are you sitting down?"

3. "In my humble opinion."

4. "No offense or anything."

5. "Look, there’s something you should know."

6. "I should warn you: You won’t like what I'm going to say."

7. "Hey, I’m just being honest."

8. "I’m the only one brave enough to tell you what everybody’s saying behind your back."

9. "With all due respect.”

10. "I've been thinking about something you said about me a long time ago, and while you might not remember it, it's bothered me since then."

And those, my friends, are only my Top-Ten selection of the worst ways to start a conversation.

My stomach hurts as I’m typing the words. That’s how anxious they make me feel, and I’m not a delicate flower. Even as I ridicule these ghastly phrases by piling them on top of each other in an attempt to diminish their power, they sting my fingers as I hit the keyboard. That’s how poisonous they are emotionally, and how potentially powerful.

Insensitive clichés, delivered with barely repressed glee have exactly the opposite effect of the expression “abracadabra”: They make everything magically slam shut instead of open up.

Want to terrify your listener into short breaths, dilated pupils, and rapid heartbeats? Using a confidentially condescending tone of voice, start your sentence with “Not that it’s really any of my business but…” and watch color drain from their faces.

Narcissists are the most adept at delivering these lines, but expert manipulators and masterful passive-aggressive types also make trenchant use of these rhetorical weapons.

A conversation beginning with “We really need to talk” has never ended with a hug and a kiss. Never in my life have I come away feeling better after a tête-à-tête initiated via “Don’t take this personally.”

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And anyone who lives in the mistaken belief that muttering, “I probably shouldn’t even be telling you this” will bring you closer together has made a perilous choice.

You are the one they put in danger; they remain in control of the situation.

If someone "shouldn’t be telling you this"—if they are betraying someone else’s confidence by saying it and if the information only serves to make you feel important because you think you have a secret—then the warning is right. This is not something you should hear.

 

Mark Twain summed it up when he wrote, “It takes your enemy and your friend, working together, to hurt you to the heart: One to slander you and the other to get the news to you.”

I’d add that the friend who gets gossipy, unnerving, upsetting, unsettling, or unnecessarily catastrophied "news" to you is not really your friend. Does a true friend want to whisper into your ear a rumor or a bad opinion that will make you miserable, especially if it’s about something you can’t change?

 

Beware the bringer of contraband information. Examine their motives.

Beware, too, those who begin conversations in other ways that depend on the bad fortunes of others. Those who enjoy jaunty rounds of “Guess Who’s Dead?” play a version of this bad conversational game.

The game of “Guess Who’s Dead?” gets increasingly unnerving as we age, given that the list of possible winner/losers gets longer.

 

Yet I never know how to answer. I mean, do you really want me to guess? Do we go by alphabetical order, age, BMI, or wish fulfillment?

Is it like charades, where you can give hints “Okay, two syllables, sounds like ‘bowling’? Rolling? Rolling Stone? Keith Richards?” But no, it can’t be. Keith Richards. Richards, 77, smoking cigarettes since he was conceived, he will bury us all. When anybody asks, “Guess who just died?” I simply reply “It’s not Keith Richards, so just tell me already.”

 

How can you stop these conversational sabotages, these comments that can verge on micro- aggressions while disguised as socialization opportunities, before they explode into actual bad emotional eruptions? You might consider taking control back from the person who appears to want to seize it from you, even if they are not aware it, or appear to be not aware of it.

 

You can take the reins in the dialogue. Saying something as simple as "You're making me nervous. Can we get to the main point right away?" is both honest and direct. It shortcuts the possible poorly or dangerously sparking emotional circuitry and cuts down on drama.

But, look, I'm only telling you this as a friend. Don’t take this personally. I’ve heard you used to be pretty good at conversation, at least you were once. Everybody says so—well, almost everybody. You might not want to hear this, but….

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Saturday, 16 October 2021

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