We’ve all said things that people interpreted differently than we intended. These seemingly benign comments lead to the awful feeling that comes only when you’ve planted your foot firmly into your mouth.
Verbal slip-ups often occur because we say things without knowing the subtle implications they carry. Understanding these implications requires social awareness—the ability to pick up on people’s emotions and experiences.
TalentSmart has tested the emotional intelligence of more than a million people. It discovered that social awareness is a skill many of us lack.
We lack social awareness because we’re so focused on what we’re going to say next—and how what other people are saying affects us—that we completely lose sight of others.
This is a problem, because people are complicated. You can’t hope to understand someone until you focus all of your attention on him or her.
The beauty of social awareness is that you can vastly improve your relationships with other people if you make a few simple adjustments to what you say.
Related: 9 Things Successful People Won’t Do
There are some phrases that emotionally intelligent people are careful to avoid in casual conversation. The following phrases are nine of the worst offenders. You should avoid them at all costs.
1. “You look tired.”
Tired people are unappealing. They have droopy eyes and messy hair, they have trouble concentrating, and they’re grouchy. Telling someone he looks tired implies all of the above, and then some.
What to say instead: “Is everything OK?” Most people ask if someone is tired because they’re trying to be helpful. They want to know if the other person is all right. Instead of assuming someone’s disposition, ask. That way he can open up and share. More importantly, he’ll see you’re concerned—not rude.
2. “Wow, you’ve lost a ton of weight!”
Once again, a well-meaning comment—in this case, a compliment—creates the impression that you’re being critical. Telling someone she has lost a lot of weight suggests that she used to look fat or unattractive.
What to say instead: “You look fantastic.” This is an easy fix. Instead of comparing her to how she used to look, compliment her for looking great.
3. “You were too good for her anyway.”
When a person severs ties with someone-whether the relationship was personal or professional-this comment implies the person has bad taste.
What to say instead: “Her loss!” This provides the same enthusiastic support and optimism without any implied criticism.
4. “You always…” or “You never…”
No one always or never does anything. People don’t see themselves as one-dimensional, so you shouldn’t define them as such. These phrases make people defensive and closed off to your message, which is bad, because you likely use these phrases when you have something important to discuss.
What to say instead: Simply point out what the other person did that’s a problem for you. Stick to the facts. If the frequency of the behavior is an issue, you can always say, “It seems like you do this often,” or “You do this often enough for me to notice.”
5. “You look great for your age.”
Using “for your” as a qualifier always comes across as condescending and rude. No one wants to be smart for an athlete or in good shape relative to other people who are also knocking on death’s door. People simply want to be smart and fit.
What to say instead: “You look great.” This one is another easy fix. Genuine compliments don’t need qualifiers.
6. “As I said before…”
We all forget things from time to time. This phrase makes you sound insulted for having to repeat yourself. This is hard on the recipient (someone genuinely interested in hearing your perspective). Getting insulted over having to repeat yourself suggests you are either insecure or think you’re better than everyone else (or both!). Few people who use this phrase actually feel this way.
What to say instead: When you say your message again, convey it in a clearer and more interesting manner. It will help your listener remember what you said.
7. “Good luck.”
This one is subtle. It certainly isn’t the end of the world if you wish someone good luck, but you can do better. This phrase implies the person needs luck to succeed.
What to say instead: “I know you have what it takes.” This is better than wishing someone luck, because suggesting she has the skills to succeed provides a huge confidence boost. You’ll stand out from everyone else who simply wishes her luck.
8. “It’s up to you,” or “Whatever you want.”
While you may be indifferent to the question, your opinion is important to the person asking (or else he wouldn’t have asked you in the first place).
What to say instead: “I don’t have a strong opinion either way, but a couple things to consider are…” When you offer an opinion, even without choosing a side, it shows you care about the person asking.
9. “Well, at least I’ve never ___.”
This phrase is an aggressive way to shift attention away from your mistake by pointing out an old, likely irrelevant mistake the other person made (and one you should have forgiven him for by now).
What to say instead: “I’m sorry.” Owning up to your mistake is the best way to bring the discussion to a more rational, calm place so you can work things out. Admitting guilt is an amazing way to prevent escalation.
In everyday conversation, the little things make all the difference. Try these suggestions, and you’ll be amazed at the positive responses you get.
Travis Bradberry is co-author of “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” and president at TalentSmart. A version of this article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Copyright © 2015 Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.