Yesterday as I listened to my irate coworker tell someone on the phone, “I am the nicest person in the world,” I started thinking about things people frequently say, but do not mean and sometimes mean the exact opposite of what is coming out of their mouth.
Despite her self proclamations, this woman is not the “nicest person in the world.” (Even typing that phrase has me wondering what a “Nicest Person in the World” contest or better yet, pageant would entail. How would that even be decided? Would there be a talent competition? Does the winner get a scholarship or maybe a new convertible?) The coworker in question only declares herself the queen of nice when she is a) about to rip into someone (most of the time the person fails to recognize this warning) or b) when she hangs up the phone after tearing someone apart verbally and notices the aghast faces of anyone who was privy to her side of the call. In her mind, declaring herself nice justifies whatever horrible thing she has just said or done. What she means is, I can’t control myself and I later regret it so I try to make myself feel better by telling myself and everyone around me what a nice person I am.
It goes without saying, you can’t take everything at face value. But there are certain sayings and phrases that you should never take at face value. Here are some that should raise a red flag that some sort of inaccuracy or fiction is coming your way.
“Long story short” – Pull up a chair and get comfortable because you’re about to be subjected to a needlessly long (and quite possibly excruciatingly boring) story. The storyteller will think they are spinning a captivating yarn, but you will wish you had found a way to bow out before he or she got started with this “short” tale. If somebody says this to you in the corporate world, check your watch because if you have a meeting to get to in the next half hour, you’re going to be late.
“Not to sound racist” or “Not to sound prejudiced” – Brace yourself because whenever you hear this, what you are about to hear next is guaranteed to be racist and/or homophobic or maybe both.
“No judgment”…or “I’m not judging you” – At that very moment, you are being judged by the person who just told you they were indeed not judging you. Full disclosure, I say this all the time and I am totally judging the person I am saying it to, without fail. People are free to live their lives and I reserve the right to judge those choices. But, I am rational enough to realize that my judgments carry no weight outside my own head and that’s the way it should be. Just because I judge you doesn’t mean I’m right. In fact, I’m wrong…a lot.
“Actually” – I picked up on this a few years ago when I would listen to my assistant tell vendors who called my office things like “she is actually in a meeting” or “she is actually away from her desk right now.” Actually, I was right there – totally available. After that, I began noticing “actually” popping into conversations in social situations. When the speaker was telling a lie (anywhere from a white lie to huge whopper of a tale) or when discussing something potentially awkward, they would drop in “actually.” My son is actually taking a year off from school and exploring his options (translation: he dropped out of college). I was actually at home sick yesterday (translation: I was at home binge watching the new season of Arrested Development).
“I don’t like to gossip” or “I shouldn’t be telling you this” – Get ready, my friend because you are about to hear some juicy details. This person is dying to tell you something they were sworn to keep secret. Another favorite of mine is when in the midst of telling you something, they know they shouldn’t be, the person says, “I feel okay telling you this because this is something I would totally say to his/ her face so it’s not like I’m talking behind his/her back.” Yes you are and no way in hell you would say this to their face. Test this out sometime – say “hey, let’s call him/her and talk about this.” 0% of the time will the gossiper agree.
I’m not trying to tell you what to do” – Yes you are. Enough said.
“No offense” – This is code for I know what I just said was probably personally offensive. I insulted you, your beliefs or maybe someone you love, but I really don’t want you to dislike me despite what I said. We’re still friends, right?
“Fine. Whatever.” – It’s not fine and it’s definitely not whatever. I admit to using this one when I am really annoyed or ticked off. It’s never fine, but it is a way to buy me some time and space to figure out how to handle whatever is bothering me. For me, fine or whatever means let me get back to you on this thing that has me so mad I can’t speak or thing rationally.
“In a perfect world” – In a corporate setting, someone will say this to set expectations. They rely on the word “perfect” to imply that it’s okay if this can’t happen. It’s a way to make you feel safe, to coddle you into believe they aren’t demanding this ideal thing from you. They are just saying it would be great, if it could maybe happen. But trust me, they are demanding. “In a perfect world” is code for, this is what I want and I want you to figure out how to make it happen.