Backhanded phrases courteous communicators avoid

Some common sayings carry serious negative connotations. Here are some statements that won’t win many friends around the office—not to mention clients.

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Have you ever received feedback or comments from colleagues that begin with the phrase “with all due respect”?

The phrase is typically used by someone who wants to criticize you or your work, but that person feels the need to soften the message. Of course, “with all due respect” means nothing of the sort. It indicates willful disagreement with someone in a position of authority; subtle disrespect is intended.

Here’s an example in context, pulled from a colleague’s email:

With all due respect, I differ with your perspective that my content was a ‘sales promotion’ of our products. And a number of your edits delete what I think is important, instructive, product-related information.”

Of course, there are other phrases frequently used to disguise disrespect or offer backhanded feedback. The key is to know them when you see (or hear) them, and to not let them trigger you into sending a similar response.

Here are a few to watch out for, and avoid in your own writing:

  • “No disrespect intended…”
  • “I’ll defer to your expertise, but…”
  • “What you wrote was not so bad, however…”
  • “What you’ve done should not be dismissed lightly.”
  • “I hesitate to tell you this, but…”
  • “Please take this feedback with a grain of salt.”
  • “I didn’t expect you to get this done in time. Well done.”
  • “You really seemed to know what you were talking about in that meeting.”
  • “I’m impressed that you’ve been here for so long.”
  • “I wish I could be as straightforward as you, but I always try to get along with everyone.”

How about you? Any phrases you would add to the list?

Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor and a regular contributor to PR Daily. Read more of her posts on writing and corporate communications at

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