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Toxic Words Part 2 of 3

In the last blog, Toxic Words Part 1 of 3, you were introduced to how misplaced and carelessly chosen words or statements severely undermine your relationships. We placed these toxic words into six categories: Generalization, Labelling, Provocative Language, Blame Game, Reactive Words and Can I Just Say…

In part one we looked at the first two categories, Generalization and Labelling. Now let’s look at how we often use Provocative Language or the Blame Game to get our point across but cause damage to the intended message and our relationships.

Provocative Language

This type of language is often used to provoke a reaction. People often react to them defensively and a conflict is created.


  • “You obviously don’t understand”

  • “You are shouting”

  • “You are over-reacting”

  • “You are wrong”

  • “You do not know what you are talking about”

How to Avoid Using Provocative Language:

To avoid provocative statements present your statements as a non-judgmental observation rather than a direct statement which most people find insulting. You can use the following techniques to change the provocative language into something productive:

  • Use “I” statements.

  • Use positive language.

For example, you can use the following alternatives:

Toxic Statement: “You obviously don’t understand”

Positive Statement: “Have I been clear?”


Toxic Statement: “You are shouting”

Positive Statement: “This conversation is getting louder, how are you feeling?”


Toxic Statement: “You are wrong”

Positive Statement: “I remember this differently”


Toxic Statement: “You do not know what you are talking about”

Positive Statement: “Perhaps I should add some background information”


Toxic Statement: “You are over-reacting”

Positive Statement: “I imagine your feelings about this are strong”


However, be mindful of the subsequent response even if your statement is adjusted based on the above guidelines.

For example,

“I know you are angry”

This is not a good statement because it can easily lead to:

Bickering. “No I am not”, “Yes you are”, “No …”

Extreme Acceptance. “Of course I am angry!!!!”

Either way, you haven’t moved forward. Instead, try to use an empathic approach:

“I would be angry if I was you”

“I completely understand why you feel that your views are not considered”

If someone uses this type of language on you, simply keep your cool and think positive. Don’t take the bait if you don’t want to end up in a blame game. Think of the most generous answer you can give, spot anything positive in the statement, and reply with empathy. Psychologists call this “positive sentiment override”, where you look for positive remarks constantly to get optimum results.

Blame Game

It is easy to blame others when things go wrong. The temptation to find faults in other people’s work or contribution is strong but you should think of the overall objective. Is this blame war going to get you anywhere or is it only going to damage your relationship?


“If you have thought about this earlier…”

“I told you so”

“I did my part”

“You have been informed before”

“At least I did something”

How to Avoid Using the Blame Game:

If the other person is agitated, avoid using “You”. They may interpret this as an attack and you can easily end up in a vicious cycle.

The best way to avoid this type of conflict is to use “I” statements. By placing your emphasis on yourself, you don’t risk opening a blame war which can completely change the direction of the conversation. Remember, people are sometimes conditioned to feel under attack as soon as they hear the word “You” when they are in an argument. Before you proceed to say the rest of your sentence they already think you are accusing them.

Even if you use “I”, you could still imply an attack and so you need to be careful with your phrasing.

Instead, appear helpful.

“I am trying to see how we can move forward.”

“I wonder what we can do next”

If you see that you are ending up in a blame game, immediately derail the conversation so that you are out of the cycle and the other person can’t counteract. The more you stay in the cycle, the more difficult it is to get out of it.

For example, consider the following conversation:

A: “It’s not my fault”

B: “Well it’s not my fault either”

A: “Yes it is, you did…”

B: “No I didn’t…”

They are not getting anywhere. Instead, if you are ‘A’, you have the choice to derail this and move the conversation in a different direction:

A: “It’s not my fault”

B: “Well it’s not my fault either”

A: “Ok, so we need to work out together to see why this happened”

B: “Of course we need to!”

A: “OK, tell me more about how you feel about it.”

As you can see, the second conversation is much more constructive. ‘A’ has tried to help and has successfully stopped the vicious circle.

In the next blog, we will look at “Reactive Words “and “Can I Just Say…

Excerpts are taken from Career Concepts “Dealing with Difficult People” Workshop

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