Toxic Words Part 3 of 3

As we wrap up our toxic words blog series, we see how simple words cause hurt feelings, misunderstandings, broken relationships, and demotivation in ourselves and others. In the last two blogs, “Toxic Words Part 1 of 3” and “Toxic Words Part 2 of 3” we talked about the first four categories we can place toxic words into: Generalization, Labelling, Proactive Language, and the Blame Game. Today we explore the last two categories “Reactive Words” and “Can I Just Say…”

Reactive Words

Certain words can be extremely negative and confrontational, such as “No” and “But”. The moment you hear these words, you want to protest irrespective of your objective.





How to Avoid Using Reactive Words:

The best way to avoid these words is to replace them with their positive equivalent so you can still get your point across.

For example, rather than saying,

  • “Our project is on time, but the marketing team is way behind the schedule to prepare the advertisement campaign”

You can say,

  • “Our project is on time and the marketing team is working hard to catch up with the tight schedule to prepare the advertisement campaign.”

You still deliver the message, and you reduce the likelihood of confrontation and resistance.

To avoid reactive words, you can use the following formula:

  • Identify three things you like about the subject

  • Identify three things you like to be different about the subject.

  • Deliver all of the above in one statement to show you understand the subject and want to improve it.


“Having a real-time chat on our website is an interesting idea. It will make it easy for customers to interact with our support personnel. They get their responses immediately as opposed to waiting for emails and it probably reduces the time-to-purchase and potentially increases the sales. I like to see how we can have support personnel on our side monitoring the system 24/7 so the online chat is always available. The chat window also needs to be responsive; if it is not real-time the customers might as well email us and I am not sure about the server demand on this, so we need to think about this carefully too.”

With this formula, you are showing that you have good intentions and are not trying to criticize but help. This will have a magical positive effect on the other person.

If others use this type of statement against you, try to move the conversation away from “No” and into more positive territory. You can even ask the other person to help you with this since a “No” can completely bring it to a halt.

For example, you can say,

  • “What do you suggest we do to move this forward?”

  • “I have a client who has previous experience on this subject. I can bring him over so we can go through this again and see what he thinks.”

  • “What do we need to change so that your issue is resolved?”

Naturally, you need to be careful of what you offer and you need to do it with the right tone. Be careful not to patronize or use sarcasm.

Can I Just Say…

This interruption tactic is used in two ways: One way is when we are feeling angry and impatient. We can’t wait for our turn and want to let the world know about our problem. The other is to use this kind of comment deliberately to stop the other person from talking. Although effective in some cases, if used regularly it can be quite counterproductive and damages relationships.

With this approach, the conversation simply gets louder and louder as both sides are trying to be heard, though unfortunately, the listening stops as the conversation gets louder.


  • “Can I just say something”

  • “If you let me talk”

  • “You keep interrupting me”

  • “You are not letting me talk”

How to Avoid Using Can I Just Say Language:

When in a debate, it is easy to feel that you want to interrupt the other person right in the middle of the conversation and correct them. Try to resist this temptation. Think of the overall objective. What is it you are trying to achieve? With that in mind, take a deep breath, nod, and show that you are listening. Best of all, take some notes. The other person wants you to listen. Once they are convinced that you have heard them and understood how they feel, they will calm down. You can now explain your side of the story.

If the other person interrupts you, let him do this only once. If he interrupted you again, you need to respond. However, you want to respond in such a way to get maximum results. Consider this reply,

  • “Can I talk without your interruption?”

This is very ineffective as it sounds confrontational. Let’s consider another reply,

  • “Can I share my thoughts without interruption?”

This is slightly better, though the entire sentence is dominated by the word “interruption”. The other person just hears “interruption” and this reply may have the same effect as the previous one which is not ideal. Let’s consider another reply,

  • “How can I share my thoughts?”

Now you are asking for the other person’s cooperation which is much more effective. The other person will realize that he needs to be fair if he wants to get anything out of this conversation. You can still improve your reply as it is rather short,

  • “What’s the best way for me to respond to you, so you can hear my point of view?”

This reply shows that you are cooperative; you want their opinion and genuinely sound like a person who wants to help.

Next time you are in a heated debate or cannot understand why/how the conversation went wrong, ask yourself, “Have I used toxic words, or am I reacting negatively to their toxic words?”

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

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