Conversational Dealbreakers

by admin on August 22, 2012

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.


{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

Cherry July 23, 2012 at 5:59 am

It truly saddens me that I went through this list going “Check, check, check!” I have been subjected to every single one of these.

“Yes, sir/madam, I’m going to risk my job because you don’t want to pay full price/didn’t read the fine print/etc. And yelling at me and treating me like dirt is REALLY making me want to help you…”


Jennifer July 23, 2012 at 6:46 am

Ooooh…. I’ve been working in customer service for almost 20 years, and I’ve heard most of these. It makes my blood boil. Especially the “sweetie” or “honey” that men will condescendingly use. My customer service work is done by phone, and most of these men don’t even realize that, in most cases, I’m actually older than them.


Green123 July 23, 2012 at 6:49 am

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.

I have a habit of telling (male) cashiers and customer service staff that ‘I am not your love/darlin’/chick’. Recently I had to tell a persistent male offender (a guy much younger than me in a nearby store I frequent) that there was a fine line between ‘friendliness’ and ‘sexual harrassement’ and that by calling me ‘babe’ for the nth time, having been asked not to, that he had just crossed that line. He now calls me ‘madam’. Much better 🙂


jen a. August 22, 2012 at 5:29 am

What about this:

“I’m not racist/sexist/homophobic but….” almost invariably followed by a racist/sexist/homophobic statement. The first part of the sentence does not negate the second part!


StephM August 22, 2012 at 5:32 am

“And who are you?”
I actually used this when a complete stranger criticized my dog’s weight (she looks really thin, but she’s only 3lb under a “normal” weight) and how I was correcting her. I followed with, “Because you don’t look like my vet or trainer.” He shut up immediately. That was a good day.

I’ve only had a couple of these said to me. It’s kinda neat to remember how quickly the mental walls went up. “What part of -” BOOM! Mental walls.


Just4kicks August 22, 2012 at 5:32 am

I am a grown woman who was raised to refer to people as “Sir ” or “Ma ‘am “. Lately I have noticed some annoyed looks when doing so. Is this not appropriate any longer? If I know the persons last name I will say Mr./Miss/Mrs. so and so. I was just wondering as I do not want to insult anyone, although again I was raised to believe this is polite and teach my kids the same. I take no offense to being called ma ‘am. I am 42 btw.


Sarah F August 22, 2012 at 5:49 am

I often hear “I’m not trying to be rude but …” Actually you ARE, but you think that by saying this it excuses your rudeness. Well, it doesn’t.

Also, “I don’t mean to be funny but …” or “I don’t want to be offensive but ….” Makes my blood boil!


essie August 22, 2012 at 5:55 am

#1. I had to LOL at this one. The day before our wedding, my husband-to-be asked my mother “What’s the one thing I need to know/remember about Essie to make this marriage work?”

Mom: “I learned a long time ago, when she was still a little girl, never tell her she can’t do something. If you do that, she’ll do her best to prove she CAN do it.”

DH: “SO, what did you say when, as a parent, you didn’t want her to do something or she shouldn’t do it?”

Mom: “I learned to say “I would prefer that you not do that’.”


LadyL August 22, 2012 at 6:25 am

Here’s one that did it for me last week. I put my work on hold to help someone who was WAY behind in getting new employee file into the process to be entered for payment. When I went to her desk I was told the that “We will do this on (her name) time.” and was promply dismissed. Well, her time equaled taking care of other things like checking her e-mail, her soap opera website and ordering non essential office supplies…and me working through my lunch to get her caught up once she was ready for my help.


Sarah Jane August 22, 2012 at 6:38 am

I agree with all of these, but #3 raises a question for me about my own behavior.

I frequent the local cafe in my small town, where the employees are mainly teenage boys. I am a forty-year-old woman, and I sometimes refer to whatever boy is waiting on my table as “sweetie”, much as I call my own children.

I’m not trying to hijack this thread, but would someone please let me know if I am out of line?


essie August 22, 2012 at 6:49 am

#2. How about “If you loved me, you’d do this.”

#3. It may not be polite, but I feel better by responding with “Boy”. (Only used when the other person is a condescending male – regardless of age.)

#6. If it’s obvious what I’m doing, I’ll stop, look at what I’m doing, turn to the person, and say something totally ridiculous, such as “Grilling yak burgers.” (I love trick questions!)

#14. I was in line at a major department store when I heard this guy berating the cashier with this gem :”Sam WALMART is one of my best friends and if I don’t get _____ right now, I’m going to call him just as soon as I get home!” (Dude, it might sound less like a tantrum if you learn your “best friend’s” last name.)


Chris August 22, 2012 at 7:05 am

3 years of call center experience, 2.5 years of retail experience, and 1 year 4 months of insurance customer service and I’ve heard most of these, or appropriate variants (I’m male so I never got called little girl but I heard young man and son spoken in a condescending way).

However one that is missing that boils my blood, even today when I just overhear or even read about it: “Don’t you know the customer is always right?!” Nope, sorry, but they aren’t. That phrase was a poorly worded abbreviation of the idea that you never tell a customer they are WRONG. You acknowledge a misunderstanding, or that they may have received misinformation, or some other error that was not their fault personally but not necessarily the fault of the business but a different individual. That misunderstanding, however, does not entitle the customer to what they expected.


Shannon August 22, 2012 at 7:22 am

I’m a receptionist at a federal agency, and I get the “My tax dollars pay your salary!” one quite often. Usually, it’s because the party they want to speak to is not available, and the caller is furious that they cannot talk to the person they want at the precise moment they would like. It’s frustrating to deal with people who think you are a wizard and can just conjure people up at a second’s notice.

I’m usually tempted to respond with, “Well, I pay taxes, too, and I don’t go around demanding to drag my colleagues out of meetings,” or, “Thanks for that ninetieth of a penny, it really made the difference because I bought the extra-fancy ramen noodles.”

I usually say something sympathetic and offer to take a message, but seriously – government employees hear that “our tax dollars pay your salary!” routine so often that the moment you say it, the employee loses all desire to help you.


Cherry August 22, 2012 at 7:24 am

I wouldn’t have helped her. I certainly wouldn’t have given up my lunch break for her. If my superior had complained, I’d have told him that I had tried to give assistance and that my coworker had made it clear she wasn’t interested.

Who are they more likely to believe, the worker who is really behind, or the one who actually does their job?


Hemi August 22, 2012 at 7:58 am

Like Jennifer (comment #2) , I have also worked in the customer service industry for over 20 years, at various levels, and have heard almost every one of these. Admin is right (as usual 🙂 )- as soon as I hear them, my mental walls go up.


PM August 22, 2012 at 8:03 am

“You need to”

Because inevitably what follows is something that the speaker wants or needs me to do, but will not benefit me in any way. And usually, it’s going to take a lot of effort on my part or put me out in some way.

So no-

I don’t NEED to switch seats with you in this very crowded movie theater because you’re a couple (that showed up two minutes into the previews) and I’m a single (who staked out her seat by showing up quite early for this highly anticipated movie.) I don’t really care if the only two empty seats together are in the very front row, where you’ll have to crane your necks to see.

I don’t NEED to make you a cake, a piece of jewelry, or a piece of needlework, just because you’ve seen what I’m capable of making. And I certainly won’t do it without being reimbursed for materials because you think I “need the practice.”

I don’t NEED to edit (read: completely re-write) your thesis. Unless I’m going to get half of your master’s degree that’s not really going to benefit me in any way.

I don’t need NEED to give you the clothes my kids have outgrown. I am 90 percent sure you’re going to just turn around and sell them at a consignment sale, without thinking of sharing the profits with me. Like you did the last time I gave you my kids’ outgrown clothes.

I don’t NEED to loan you that very obscure, difficult to find DVD set, my entire collection of books by my favorite author, or my copy of software any computer owner should buy when they purchase their machine. You still haven’t returned a VHS tape I loaned you back when we still used VHS tapes.

The same goes for loaning you my grandmother’s antique necklace that you think would make a great accessory for a Halloween costume. Yes, I know, I’m a terrible friend.

I don’t NEED to give you baby items just because YOU’VE decided I don’t need them any more. Last time I checked, my reproductive choices were up to my husband and myself, not you. I don’t care if you’ve already promised those items to your pregnant sister.

I don’t NEED to give you the names and email addresses for my professional contacts. Grow your own Rolodex.

So, telling me I “need” to do anything automatically raises my defensive shields.


CH August 22, 2012 at 8:04 am

One that I hear all the time is “With all due respect…” followed by a statement that is anything but respectful.


PM August 22, 2012 at 8:08 am

Also, “But X is faaaaaaaamily.”

Seriously, even the syllable “faaaaaaa” triggers my automatic “no.” I will not allow someone to treat me like crud, run over my boundaries or otherwise intrude on my life because they happen to share DNA with me or my husband. I don’t care if this could be their “last Christmas” “last birthday” or “last Arbor Day.” That’s like saying, “X only has a limited amount of time to treat you badly, so you better step up and take your share while you can!”


Amp2140 August 22, 2012 at 8:28 am

I really hate it when women think they are entitled to call you sweetie


Just Laura August 22, 2012 at 8:44 am

“No offense, but…”

Exactly. Sometimes paired with “Sorry, but…” Is the person gracefully apologizing, or about to say something inappropriate so will gloss it over with a “sorry”?

I liked essie’s story. Sounds like an intelligent mother.


Gloria Shiner August 22, 2012 at 8:59 am

Or how about: “You’re going to be really mad, but . . .” , and then when you are mad and say so, they act surprised and offended.


doremi August 22, 2012 at 9:11 am

I say #5 all the time to my kids 🙂

#8 I’m not quite getting

#12 can be very appropriate at times


Tikal August 22, 2012 at 9:12 am

@Sarah Jane and Amp—- I’m 21, look sixteen, and I get called ‘sweetie’ ‘honey’ ‘doll’ and such a LOT. Personally I like it. I don’t feel looked down upon, I just find it nice and friendly.


Lapis August 22, 2012 at 9:27 am

“But you are the admin assistant, you are supposed to do this for me”.

“No, I am suppose to *assist* you, not do your job for you. I will be glad to show you how to xyz”.

“But I am SO busy and it’s easier if you just do it”.

“I am busy, too. It’s easier for *you* if I just do it, but you get paid to do it. I will be glad to show you how, but I will not do it for you.”


GroceryGirl August 22, 2012 at 9:27 am

“Do you know who I am?” is imho the all-time, most obnoxious thing anyone could ever say ever. And it serves no purpose. I’ve heard it a few times in my life and it’s never made me want to be nicer or more accommodating; it kind of has the opposite effect. It is rude and gets you absolutely no where.


Library Diva August 22, 2012 at 9:30 am

“No offense” is almost always followed by something offensive. “I’m not racist, but…” is almost always followed by a racist remark. “I don’t mean to be rude…” is hardly ever spoken in a polite tone of voice, let alone followed up by anything that’s not rude.

“Do you know who I am” or a variant of that was just about my least favorite phrase at my former job. I worked for a locally owned group of community newspapers that had been operated by the dame family for about 100 years. The publisher, vice-president and managing editor were all indeed well-known in the community. It was hard to sort out their legitimate friends from people who knew them only casually, but normally their genuine friends were not the sort of people to badger the paper’s employees.

Here’s one of my favorite stories. I used to handle event listings for the Townville newspaper. A woman called me about getting an event that was happening at a private school in Anytown listed in all eight of our papers. I told her, I’d be happy to list it in the Townville paper myself, and that since it was happening in Anytown, it would of course be listed there, and I’d share it with the other papers and it would be at their discretion whether or not it ran. That was a standard line that I used with all similar requests. The papers ran announcements about things like church bake sales, school fundraisers and club meetings free of charge, but kept it pretty specific to the community each paper covered.

This was the only time it didn’t work. She went ballistic. What does that mean, their discretion. I know the publisher. I went to the vice-president’s wife’s baby shower. I need to make $20,000 on this fundraiser. I need a guarantee. I offered to transfer her to the managing editor, and she said, “See, that wasn’t hard.” This is where the story gets good. The managing edtor had heard the whole thing. He talked to her for a minute and told her, sorry, Anytown paper only. If she’d been nice to me, she would have had her listing in at least one other paper, maybe more. That truly made my day.


Shalamar August 22, 2012 at 9:43 am

This is a bit timely, because my in-laws are having their 50th anniversary party this weekend, and my MIL has made it very clear that she expects everyone to help out. The thing is, she didn’t ask us – she told us. “(Elder Son) will do the photo presentation. (Daughters) will arrange the food. (Grandchildren) will serve the tea and coffee.”

My teenage daughters are included in that last category, and they flatly refused. They dislike their grandmother, who has never been particularly warm to them (or anyone else for that matter). Still, I can’t help but think that if my MIL had ASKED family members to take part instead of ordering them around, my daughters might have been a bit more willing. I’m guessing that it never entered MIL’s head that anyone wouldn’t want to be a part of this event!


Jared Bascomb August 22, 2012 at 9:51 am

One of my faves is “That’s unacceptable.”

And the answer to #13 (“Do you know who I am?”) is: No.


essie August 22, 2012 at 10:05 am

@ Sarah Jane (#10): I think the key word in the complaint is “condescending”, as in “Well, now, don’t you worry your pretty little head about it, little girl, we men will solve your problem for you.”


Elizabeth August 22, 2012 at 10:30 am

Wow – “you need to” cut some people out of your life!


Kimberami August 22, 2012 at 10:34 am

I work in law enforcement, and the one I really hate to hear is “I hope ____ happens to you/your family!” Fill in the blank with everything from burglary to rape to murder. I try very hard to remember that every person I deal with is having the one of the worst days of his/her life, but I have to work with the confines of my job. I can bend rules. I can’t violate laws. I can only do what I have been authorized to do. When someone decides that that isn’t good enough, that person will often strike back with venom.


Gee August 22, 2012 at 10:36 am

At my first job, the regional manager’s brother called me “girl” all the time. Even though I was wearing a name tag! I once said, “I have a name, you know!” Then he took perverse pleasure in calling me, “Girrrrrrl!” every chance he got. And since he wasn’t actually part of the company or employed by them, I couldn’t even file a complaint against him. I literally cringed every time he came to the workplace.

I think the world would be a better place if everyone had to spend 6 months working in retail. It’s amazing how badly people think they can treat you just because you’re in the service industry.


Nannerdoman August 22, 2012 at 10:54 am

“But you have to admit . . . ”

No, I don’t. You’re just trying to get me to concede that you’re right when I disagree. It’s not going to happen.


Harley Granny August 22, 2012 at 10:59 am

12. “And who are you?” I use this and not ashamed to admit it! But only in extreme cases… I work in Law Enforcement and when a young newbie come in trying out their new “sworn” act on us lowly civilians.
It takes them down a peg.
Then I usually follow it by,
13. “Do you know who I am?” I usually add that just as comic relief while they get their courage back.
15. “I pay your salary!” Often heard by teachers and public servants…I hear that a usual response is… do it. 🙂

16. “You know, if it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t have a job.”… My usual response….so it WAS you…let me send you my therapist bill.


Nannerdoman August 22, 2012 at 11:07 am

Also: “I hope you don’t mind, but . . . ”

Usually prefaces the revelation that the speaker has done something that he or she knows darned well you DO mind: “I hope you don’t mind, but I promised the Ladies’ Guild you’d bake three dozen cupcakes for the bake sale tomorrow.”


Justine August 22, 2012 at 11:10 am

Number 4. So very true!


Cat August 22, 2012 at 11:10 am

I had an assistant principal who wanted to call me “Honey”. I agreed so long as he was fine with my addressing him as “Stud Muffin”. He didn’t think his wife would like that.
When one of my students told me, “That is not fair!” , a member of the football team turned around and asked, “Where on your birth certificate does it say that your life is going to be fair?”
I am guilty of a form of this. When one of our security officers was complaining about the behavior of some of the high school students in our night school, I said, “Well, look on it as job security. If the bad kids didn’t come here, there would be no need for security officers. You should be going around, making sure they are coming back next term. Then you will know that your job is safe from the budget cuts.”


Louella August 22, 2012 at 11:28 am

I tremble with rage when anyone tells me what to do – probably a byproduct of having an extremely controlling mother.
My friend recently emailed me to tell me “Instead of sewing yourself a new dress for the party next weekend, you should make me a blouse, because I don’t have time to do it myself”. I was shocked by the entitlement and the inconsideration – obviously I declined her kind offer.


Calli Arcale August 22, 2012 at 12:18 pm

“Sweetie” and the like, said with condescension . . . interestingly, I’ve only ever heard this from other females. A few just use it as a casual term of endearment, but then there are the ones who use it as a backhanded insult — to drive home that I’m clearly their inferior (at least in their mind), and as a sort of notpology along the lines of “I don’t mean to be rude, but . . . ” as if calling me by an ostensibly friendly name would counteract the insult to follow.


Huh August 22, 2012 at 12:21 pm

@PM, Yeah, I hear “you NEED to” a lot at my work (from people who are not my boss) and that immediately makes me NOT want to do whatever it is, where if they had spoken politely to me, I would have been glad to help to the extent that I am able.

I also don’t understand the “But X is family.” So I have to tolerate or endorse their awful behavior because of that? Because “X is family,” can I say, “Your behavior disgusts me?”


Jenn50 August 22, 2012 at 12:32 pm

I guess I’m guilty of this. I call people “hon” a lot in informal situations. I certainly don’t mean to condescend, I just find it friendlier than “Hey, you, over there!” Plus, my job requires me to interact with patients for 30-70 minutes at a stretch, usually in their worst moments, so I always felt “hon” was a little bit of tenderness at times when people were feeling horrible. (“Sorry Hon, I know it hurts. I’ll get you something for the pain as soon as I can.”) I treat hundreds of people every year, and remembering whether you are Carol or Cheryl can be tough when I’m focused on your physical emergencies, especially when I treated Sherry yesterday, and met Caryn at my son’s bake sale last night. I’ve never had anyone complain or seem offended but I guess: a) I need to rethink that strategy, as so many people on here seem to find it so offensive, and b) people need to lighten up and stop assuming such nefarious motives based on something so innocent.


TylerBelle August 22, 2012 at 12:34 pm

“May I ask you a personal question?”

Oh boy, I cringe when I get this, for I can almost guarantee it’s going to be about my outward appearance (I’m a ‘little person’). It’s usually followed by others as “Where do you find clothes to fit you?” — “Is there any one else in your family like you?” — “Are you related to (another little person)?” — “How do you feel about being called midget?” Etc. [[Sigh]].

I realize people are just curious, though when one question leads to another, and another, it I begin to feel like an alien from outer space.

@Cat – Hee! “Stud Muffin”… nice comeback!


DogMom August 22, 2012 at 12:41 pm

I’ve had the “Do you know who I am?” used on me once, and ONLY once. Mainly because my response was “Yep, I sure do. Now ask me if that’s going to make a difference.”


Shalamar August 22, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Doremi, #8 (“Do you know English?”) is patronizing, because it’s assuming that anyone with an accent can’t speak or understand English properly. Why else would Foreign McNotFromHere decline my perfectly reasonable request to drop everything she’s doing and attend to MY needs?

That reminds me of when I had a job answering phones and taking customers’ orders. There was one customer whom we all hated because he was a condescending jerk. The first time he got me, he said “Are you NEW there?”. I answered honestly “Yes”, because I’d only been on the job for a couple of weeks. He said “Don’t worry, dear. You’ll get the hang of it.” I fumed, because he was implying (to me, at least) that I’d botched his order somehow. (I hadn’t.) What was worse was that he said the same two things every time he got me on the phone after that, even after I’d worked there for more than a year. “Are you new there?” “No, sir, I’ve been here for a year.” “Well, don’t worry, sweetie. You’ll get the hang of the job someday.” GRRR.


Rowan August 22, 2012 at 1:43 pm

@Shalamar – I read that as “goth anniversary party” which would be pretty darn cool. I should probably put my glasses on now!


PM August 22, 2012 at 1:54 pm


Actually, they tend to fade out of my life on their own once they realize I am REALLY good at saying no. 🙂


vanessaga81 August 22, 2012 at 2:19 pm

I don’t mind sweetie from people who mean it in a polite way. I live in the South and that’s pretty standard from older people. I do not appreciate it from people who mean it jn a condescending way. I worked in customer service for 7 years and I got all kinds. I was truly shocked by what some people would say. Often-very often-people whose service was stopped due to nonpayment of their bill would say “I’ve been a customer for x number of years, you people KNOW that I will pay. How dare you atop the service.” Service was never stopped until a bill was 3 months behind so I couldn’t really understand their anger. Which brings me to another phrase I hate: “You people”. It was always said in a rude way. That one is a trigger to me to this day.


Kim August 22, 2012 at 2:41 pm

I hate, hate, hate being called sweetie, honey, darling, pumpkin, dove, etc. HATE it. My mother was patronizing when she called me ones of those names so it really bugs me now.

I’m 38 and when a 19-yr old calls me “sweetheart”? Awesome.


Enna August 22, 2012 at 3:03 pm

I don’t mind people calling me “love” or “sweetie” if they are being geniuine in their gratitude or apprication. As for “I mean no offence…” if you have a question just ask it. I hate it when people say “I know the owner do this” NO ONE gets special favours. As for “I’m not racist/sexist/homophobic but” if you are curious about it just ask.


Sadie August 22, 2012 at 3:25 pm

I knew all the hours in therapy were well spent when I had the following conversation with my mom:

Mom: “I know it makes you mad when I say this, but…”
Me (calmly) “Then why are you saying it?”
Mom: [Silence]
Me: [Moves on to new topic.]


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