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Conversational Dealbreakers

Conversational Dealbreakers are those little phrases that stop all civil discourse in its tracks, causing it to come to a screeching halt at a crossroads decision to either engage further in what will likely be a more heated discussion, mentally shut down or walk away from the discussion.   Here are some of Ehell readers’ favorites:

1.  “Of course you’re going to…….”

This usually means that I’m going to do the exact opposite of what’s being suggested and the speaker usually thinks that this phrase will bully me into doing what she wants me to do.

2.  “You should do whatever I want!” (Even if it breaks the rules!)

3.  Being referred to as a “little girl” … when you’re a grown woman.  Sweetie (or doll, hun, babe, etc) – spoken by a man (or a woman) with condescension.

4.  “Well, no offense, BUT………”

5.  “What part of XXX don’t you understand?”

6.  “What do you think you’re doing?”

7.   “You can’t say No to this!” (Why, yes,… yes, I can.)

8. “Do you know English?,” when they hear my accent, or saying patronizingly that, “I can understand (an alleged error) because English is not your first language,” mostly when there I use a usage not too commonly used where I live now, but is popular in my home country (and my native language is not English, but IT IS my first language because I started and did schooling in English).

9.  “What do you mean, ‘NO’?”

10.  “That’s not fair!”

11.  “Why can’t I have it?”

12.  “And who are you?”

13.  “Do you know who I am?”

Business/Work Related

14.  When I’m working: “I’m friends with the owner and HE always lets me _____”

15.    “I pay your salary!” Often heard by teachers and public servants.

16.  “You know, if it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t have a job.”.

17.  “I don’t pay you to think!” (At work. Actually heard by a friend. She quit on the spot.)

18.  “If you tell a person your policy and they reply with, ‘Well, so-and-so doesn’t do it that way.'”

By all means, you have my blessings to explore a business with our competitor then. I encourage it, really.


{ 76 comments… add one }
  • Ultra Venia August 22, 2012, 3:39 pm

    Yes, yes, yes!
    Threadwin and Post Of Day.

  • Stacey Frith-Smith August 22, 2012, 3:57 pm

    There are a lot of triggers on this list! We all have a collection of of experiences from people trying to persuade, bully, force or guilt their way into victory so that we will do their work, bend the rules to our disadvantage, or sacrifice our time, comfort and even our principles to their agenda. What would be really entertaining is a list of all the ways it is possible to say “no”. The classics: “No”. “Why would I want to do that?” “That won’t be possible.” “I cannot accommodate your request.” Small words, and so unassuming, but so effective! Any other great lines that still qualify as polite?

  • Spike August 22, 2012, 4:08 pm

    My favourite thing is when a customer comes in the restaurant where I work and they’re “pretty sure” we offer menu items that to my knowledge we have never offered. As in, “I’m pretty sure I was here last week and ordered chicken balls!!” Well, I’m “pretty sure” that in the three years I’ve worked here we’ve never offered chicken balls, soooo…….???

  • Flying Red Foxes August 22, 2012, 6:18 pm

    “I would think that you…” is one that really gets on my nerves as well. I’ve always found it to be rude and condescending, but the last time someone said to me, they told me “I know you’ve had a terrible year since your father died, but I would think that you would let people in to help you.”

    Not only was that incredibly rude, but the implication that I should grieve in a way that pleases her is incredibly insulting. I won’t even address how I feel about the fact that she had said to me over Facebook. She was a relatively good friend, but I cut her out of my life right after she sent that lovely sentence to me.

  • girl_with_all_the_yarn August 22, 2012, 6:29 pm

    So, here’s a question for you: Is it ever acceptable to use one of these when someone has trapped you within a conversation you should not be having and need to escape from? Because today at work I had to slip off to the restroom and there was a job fair going on and that was when some scary woman trapped me in the bathroom to talk all about how “I’m ruining my life and This Company can make it so much better!”

    I needed to get back to work, and I couldn’t seem to extricate myself from the situation gracefully. I eventually waited for her to get distracted and I ran, and then hid behind the jut made by the elevator into the stairwell and hoped she wouldn’t find me.

    While I would never use any of these phrases in normal conversation or arguing, would it be acceptable to use one in order to escape from a strange scary person? Because strange, scary, overly sociable people in the restroom are an awkward person’s nightmare.

  • Serena August 22, 2012, 6:49 pm

    My favorites are, “Promise you won’t get mad.” How exactly can I do that? …and “Don’t tell So-and-So.” If it’s a personal conversation I’ll tell the person, “Well, I won’t volunteer the information, but if he/she asks I’m not going to lie.” If it has to do with my job, I’ve learned from experience that I can never make that promise.

  • Angela August 22, 2012, 8:46 pm

    Because I teach and advise students, I do find that I often have to tell them about something they need to do…but they’ve gotten SO turned off by that phrase that it doesn’t sit well with them. I have learned that when possible, I phrase it as “you want”…”you want to go ahead and sign up for that statistics class, even though I know you’re nervous about it”. But I’d have to be pretty darned entitled to tell someone “You’re going to want to make me three dozen cupcakes”!

  • Rachel August 22, 2012, 8:46 pm

    @Sarah Jane I like it when people who are visibly older than me call me sweetie/hun/whathaveyou, a man could say it as well as long as he has a nice tone in his voice (usually just tends to be elderly men if it is a man). I have noticed that people from the south/Texas tend to do this a lot and it is endearing for me. For the record, I’m a 25-year-old married woman.

  • Page August 22, 2012, 10:22 pm

    This is one of my favorite stories about someone trying to use “Do you know who I am?” to get there way. A friend of mine worked in a small, independent, family-run pet shop. The shop specialized in exotic birds, which live well into their 70s.

    A man came in wanting to buy one of the birds and my friend explained the standard procedure. The prospective bird-owner must come in several times over a period of a couple weeks and get to know the bird and how to take care of the bird properly. He also needed to provide a plan for caring for the bird after his death, as it is common for birds to outlive their owners. This customer was outraged and asked “Do you know who I am? I own the shopping center in a RichTown.” My friend replied, “You still have to go through the same process as anyone else.” The customer left in a huff.

    The next day, the customer’s lawyer came to the shop to speak to my friend about the bird. My friend told the lawyer the same thing he had told the customer. The lawyer replied, “Thank you. It’s about time someone told him no.” and left.

  • David August 22, 2012, 10:56 pm


    What you are doing while helping people in times of need is fine – I know I wouldn’t find your ‘Hon’ to be condescending, but rather comforting.

    I think what people are talking about is the terms like that that are coming from people who you know don’t care about you at all and are only saying it to be fake.

  • amyasleigh August 23, 2012, 1:41 am

    A “do you know who I am?” come-back which I like — allegedly a true story, “and if it isn’t, it ought to be”. It involves a well-known investigative journalist in the UK: a man in late middle age, notorious for conceit, self-importance and pomposity.

    This fellow was present at some function, where something he wished for could not instantly be provided — whereupon he pulled the “do you know who I am?” number. The girl working there, at whom he directed this bluster, at once announced over the public-address system: “There’s a gentleman here who’s forgotten who he is. Can anybody help him?” Probably not Ehell-approved; but, I can’t help feeling, richly deserved by Mr. Self-Important.

  • Kate August 23, 2012, 2:58 am

    @PM, that comment is so relevant to me right now.

    My fiance’s family have absolutely no interest in him 99% of the time, except when they want something done, then it’s “but we’re faaaaamily, how can you be so mean!”. I think he’d be more inclined to consider them ‘family’ if they hadn’t ignored him for much of his life, but there you go.

  • Emmy August 23, 2012, 12:31 pm

    “I didn’t want to say anything…” then don’t say anything! If you don’t want to say something, just don’t say it. It really isn’t that hard to not say something.

    My mother always has the best response for the “do you know who I am?”/”I’m the most important person to walk the planet” people. She tells them “I have lived in 15 different states, and in none of those states, has anyone ever heard of you”, usually shuts them up.

    Though my boss had someone decide to call him screaming about….something. And the person on the other end dropped “Do you know who I am?!” to which my boss responded “No, do you know who I am?”, I laughed until I couldn’t breath.

  • Mini Monster August 23, 2012, 12:34 pm

    I had someone pull the “do you speak English” one on me last week. I was getting ready to pick my baby up from day care and was putting my shoe covers on when this older man walked up to me and asked me if I worked there. I answered in the negative and he went off telling me how he locked his keys in the car and he needed someone to let him in (the door to the day care was self-locking and required a code).

    His manner was so confrontational that I had to take a moment to process what he was saying, so I admit I looked a bit blank. I am also Polynesian but people frequently think I am Hispanic and/or only speak Spanish. So, the next thing he did after a beat or two was ask if I spoke any English at all.

    I was so stunned I just said “yeah” in a very icy tone and luckily an employee of the day care intervened just then. Had my great-grandmother been there, she would have said that the Lord had put His hand over my mouth! After the man left, though, all the staff and I could do was laugh.

  • Whatcha gonna do when they come for you August 23, 2012, 6:52 pm

    Yes, I hear “I pay your salary” a lot. My fantasy response would be “well, we need to talk about a raise!”

  • grumpy_otter August 24, 2012, 6:27 pm

    “18. “If you tell a person your policy and they reply with, ‘Well, so-and-so doesn’t do it that way.’””

    I never said THAT, but I hate when you have a reasonable request and a company refuses to accommodate you because “it’s not our policy.”

    For example, I was moving out of my rental home and the company policy was that I had to have the carpets professionally cleaned. All well and good except that I knew the house was scheduled to have all new carpeting installed the moment I turned in my keys.

    How annoying to explain this to the office staff to hear, over and over, “It’s still our policy.” I finally got out of it by showing up in person (They refused to transfer me to the manager via phone because “It’s not our policy.”) and asking to see the manager who said, “Of course! It would be silly to have them cleaned when they are being replaced.”

  • --Lia August 25, 2012, 10:33 pm

    Girl with all the yarn– The only expression you need to use when needing to go into a restroom or out of it is said with a steely tone of voice and a look straight in the eye. It is: “Excuse me. I have to go now.” After you’ve said “excuse,” you start walking in the direction you need to go. Try not to bump shoulders as you pass, but if space is cramped and you must, go ahead and do so. In the most extreme cases, it helps to make a small distraction. You might drop a nickel from you pocket, bend to pick it up, and give your phrase as you straighten. Or loudly thump the table as you’re standing. Don’t hide from the lunatics. They count on 2 things: One, they count on people being too polite or flabbergasted to interrupt them, and 2nd, they don’t like witnesses. If a crazy person is going to overwhelm you in the restroom, she WANTS you to be alone. She’ll likely quiet down when she sees you’re backed up by a crowd.

  • Library Diva August 26, 2012, 10:59 am

    I forgot this until a fe wdays ago, but growing up, I used to absolutely despise “You’ll understand when you’re older.” Looking back now, there were a few rare instances when it was true. But usually, it was just a way to shut down discussion. I remember my junior year of high school, they suddenly changed school policy to forbid students from wearing hats. The only way they managed to justify the change was “You’ll understand when you’re older.” I guess they must have meant older than 36, because I still don’t understand what the big deal was about allowing students to wear hats in the building. If it created a single distraction for anybody, (their other big argument) I never saw or heard about it.

  • crella August 26, 2012, 9:12 pm

    ‘Can you do me a favor?’ I learned quickly to find out what it was before being pressed for an answer.

    ‘But I PROMISED!’ A favorite in my family after someone has promised someone else my time, labor, or a contract with someone they know without asking me. ‘You have to hire so-and-so, I promised!!’


  • Cat Whisperer August 28, 2012, 1:44 am

    Regarding someone saying “But that’s not fair!”

    The lady I shared an office with for many years had a perfect rejoinder to this kind of whining. She’d look you in the eye and reply without missing a beat, “‘Fair’ is just a word in the dictionary, somewhere between ‘failure’ and ‘fool.'”

  • Emmy August 28, 2012, 5:58 pm

    @Library Diva, we had the same rule in high school, no hats on inside the building (actually we probably had that rule before, but this is a high school story), though we were given a much better answer when we questioned why. Because hats should be removed when you go inside, it’s poliet. Which created more debates amongst the other students who were so gung-ho on wearing hats inside (I still don’t understand why they needed them), but I was satisfied with the answer as it was what my mother drilled into my head. Inside? Hats off.

  • Cat Whisperer August 29, 2012, 1:21 am

    Library Diva, regarding school prohibition about wearing hats in school: I was given to understand that in some urban school districts, wearing certain hats indicated a gang affiliation. Also some kinds of team logo items, including hats, were considered to indicate a glorification of the “thug life.” I know the Raiders football team logo items had that connotation, and wearing Raiders logo apparel was considered anti-authority.

    There were also issues with rivalries between fans of certain teams leading to disruptive behavior. An example of that here in LA is rivalry between Giants baseball fans and Dodgers baseball fans. In some schools where there were tensions already over other issues, the team rivalries were just one more thing that could cause problems.

    ….And, of course you get people who just want to “push the envelope” and would do things like wear unobtrusive but potentially offensive pins on hats, such as enamelled marijuana leaves, or pins with the pirated fake Calvin (from Calvin and Hobbs) peeing on something. Some kids go to amazing lengths to try to show that they can find a way around rules. I was on a parent-teacher committee and the principal showed us some of the offensive, designed to cause controversy items he’d confiscated from kids. Some very clever, obviously smart kids who weren’t challenged enough by normal school curriculum.

    So school authorities, rather than getting into a never-ending debate about which hats were okay and which weren’t, and having some smart alec youngsters forever skirting bans and prohibitions by finding some technical exemption or clever way of causing controversy, just banned ALL hats. It was the easiest way of dealing with the problems hats caused. In the public school districts my daughter attended, all sports logo wear was prohibited and certain kinds of commercial logo items were prohibited, too.

  • WinkAndSmile August 29, 2012, 2:41 am

    This makes me want to go up to a counter, somewhere, and loudly ask, “Do you know who I am?”
    When they respond negatively, I can smile, and say, “Excellent! My disguise is working!” and then walk away.

  • Salsera August 30, 2012, 11:24 am

    My aunt, who’s a teacher, gave me a great one to use on students in private schools who claim their parents are paying your salary.

    ‘My Father’s paying your salary’
    ‘Really? And who’s he paying to teach you manners? (Pause) ..cos you need extra tuition.’

    I had no more problems with him.

  • Mel September 3, 2012, 3:58 pm

    I absolutely love this post. I work in a bank as a teller and we must be trained in following certain procedures when cashing checks and the like. Often times, we have non-relationship customers who come in to cash checks and we have certain requirements. When we politely let them know that we are unable to help them because of a government rule, all of a sudden the screaming and yelling comes about. For example, “What do you mean you can’t cash my check? So-and-so (teller in our bank or in a different banking center) does it for me all of the time?” Needless to say, when we ask them who (in our bank) does it for them, they suddenly get a bought of amnesia and can’t remember who it was.

  • valleycat1 September 7, 2012, 11:52 am

    I have a close friend who will tell me something one day, then deny she said it or claim she said just the opposite the next time the topic comes up. When I finally called her on this, she switched to saying I had mis-heard her. When I called her on that, as it was happening too frequently on too many disparate comments for this to be due to my misunderstanding her, she has now switched to “accepting the blame” by saying ‘I must have mis-spoken.’ Still happening, yet she gets extremely defensive if I repeat back what she’s said or express any disbelief in the moment of the original telling.

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