How many times have you accidentally offended someone, or sat in seething frustration while someone told THAT lie again, or got tongue tied trying to tell someone you like them?
The Dear You thread shows we’re not always great at saying what we mean, with hundreds of stories from people who are struggling to tell someone how they really feel.
So if you’re trying to play detective and find out the hidden meaning in your everyday conversations, what key phrases should you be looking out for?
What they say: “Oh wow, it’s so different!”
What they mean: “What were you thinking?”
OUCH. Whether it’s your new haircut, the cocktail recipe you found on Pinterest or the video of your last open mic performance, having anything described as ‘different’ is rarely good. Might be time to gather some honest opinions…
What they say: “Let’s do something soon!”
What they mean: “See you in exactly three years when we’ll suggest doing something ‘soon’ again, both knowing full well that we never will.”
We all say it, but how often do we actually follow up on it? If you genuinely want to see someone soon, it’s best to get a time and place in the diary there and then – ‘soon’ is pretty meaningless.
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What they say: “I’ll let you know if I need your help”
What they mean: “Please stop interfering!”
You were only trying to help, but was using your friend’s Instagram account to like their crush’s photo from 78 weeks ago really a good idea? Maybe it’s time to back off a bit and let them handle it themselves before their crush hits the block button.
What they say: “I’ll see what I’m up to and let you know.”
What they mean: “There is more chance of me booking a two-week holiday to Jupiter than going on a date with you.”
If you hear this, you’re allowed one follow-up in case they were being sincere. If they still don’t commit to your invitation, take the hint – the ball’s in their court now.
What they say: “Aww, don’t worry about cancelling tonight, we’ll reschedule!”
What they mean: “I’ve been hoping you’d cancel all day – I was in my pyjamas and loading up Netflix literally three seconds after receiving your text.”
Hey, we like the idea of seeing our friends, but when it’s raining and Domino’s has an offer on, who can really be bothered to put real clothes on? Sometimes it’s the thought that counts, right…
What they say: “I’m fine.”
What they mean: “I hate you and everything you stand for” or “I have had literally the worst day of my life but I don’t want to talk about it” or “I just won a Nobel Prize but I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging” or “I’m hungover beyond belief but you’re my boyfriend’s mum and this is meant to be a civilised Tuesday morning brunch” or “I’m fine.”
These two magical words mean everything and nothing.
What they say: “Excuse me, sorry, um, is it alright if I sit… no, no, of course, yes, sorry, don’t worry, sorry, I’m so sorry.”
What they mean: “I’m British, please don’t cause a scene.”
You can spot an awkward Brit a mile off, because they’ll be busy apologising for someone else stepping on their toe, someone else pushing into a queue, or someone else putting their bag on a seat on a busy rush hour train. Often blurted out in surprise, embarrassment or an outburst of passive aggression.
How to communicate better
Being misunderstood is easily done and it can cause all sorts of awkwardness, frustration or worry. So how can we ensure we’re communicating effectively to avoid sidestepping what we really mean?
Lots of us are guilty of talking without really listening. Don’t interrupt with your hilarious anecdote about Will’s latest rock climbing injury – it’s not always about you.
Look out for nonverbal signals
If they’re folding their arms and turning away from you, they’re probably not loving that creepy face you do when you’re trying to flirt, no matter how polite they’re being. Just saying.
This doesn’t mean telling Hannah to her face that exam stress is turning her into a total cow, but you can use ‘I feel’ statements to get your point across without being too accusatory. "I feel frustrated when you revise to Adele on loop at 4am," for instance.
Put it in writing
Lots of people communicate better in writing. If you have something serious to discuss, why not write a letter, or note down your talking points as bullet points first? You also get to edit your words before you say something you regret – no ridiculous rants to cringe over later.
Don’t be afraid to back down
As much as your housemates may love your shouting matches after one of you burns dinner (again), it’s good to learn when to back down. There are no prizes for getting the last word, and what will calling them a moron 29 times in an hour really achieve?
What are your tips on communicating clearly? Share them in the comments below!