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Rarely does a person intend to offend someone, but in some situations someone is just waiting to be offended. What can you do to avoid offending someone with whom you are having a conversation? Here are some suggestions to keep offended listeners at a minimum and to stay in the good graces of your colleagues, friends, and family.
Always be concerned about time. Don’t get carried away with your own ideas without listening to the ideas of others. Show respect for your listeners.
Pronounce proper nouns correctly. If you will be talking to relative strangers, check ahead of time to make certain you know how to pronounce the names of the people to whom you are talking. It isn’t always strangers whose name we might mispronounce; my wife had a relative who mispronounced her name for her entire lifetime. My daughter Kelsey is often called Chelsea by people who know her well. This does not promote a warm connection in a relationship. People love to be called by their names—if the name is pronounced correctly.
Seek to have new and relevant information. People are more intelligent and more demanding than ever before. Be aware of the knowledge level of the people with whom you are conversing. If you are over 80, your family might overlook your retelling of the same stories, but if you are any younger, be sure you haven’t told that story before—maybe even multiple times. You can begin by saying, “I told you about…., didn’t I?” and will be able quickly to tell if they want to hear the story or not.
Be pleasant but not pushy in the way you interact with people. Don’t be demanding if things aren’t exactly as you would have done them. Be willing to go with the flow and adapt the best you can. Be a good listener by asking open-ended questions that engage the other person. Don’t get the reputation with your family or peers that all you want to do is talk. Be sincere and pleasant as you relate to people. I have a friend who is often not invited to lunch with a group because they know she will dominate the conversation and no one else will get a chance to talk. A good way to monitor yourself on that is always to ask a follow-up question to whatever the person says. Many people make themselves unwelcome in conversations because they constantly come back with , “That reminds me of when I…” or “when my daughter,” or “when my son.” Follow the other person’s thoughts extensively before inserting your own.
Finally be very careful of poking fun at people. Even if you know someone has a good sense of humor because he or she is a jokester, don’t go overboard on the teasing. Someone might be offended if you do. It’s safest only to make fun of yourself.
Especially if you interact with many different people, you cannot predict the context each person is coming from. Offending someone might be unavoidable. But if you keep these principles in mind you will be more likely to find yourself a welcome conversationalist.
©2012 Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP
About the Author
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Emeritus Professor of speech communication at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, Kentucky. He works with organizations that want to speak and listen more effectively to increase personal and professional performance. He can be reached at 800-727-6520 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .