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Things We Say That Block Contact

Being more mindful of our language may open a door to deeper connections.

How do you respond when people offer a heartfelt compliment, a friendly favor, or words of appreciation? Do you receive it gracefully or feel awkward and uncomfortable?

Often we don’t avail ourselves of the simple interpersonal pleasures that can improve the quality of our lives. We don't let people in. We let moments slip by — ignoring the possibilities of a richer connection, even if brief. Paying attention to our language and how we feel when someone treats us kindly can help us feel less lonely and more connected.

Here are common things we say that may hinder a gracious and gratifying flow of giving and receiving.

"No problem."

I frequently hear people say “no problem” when I thank them for something. As I discussed in an earlier post, this term has established itself so firmly in our lexicon, especially with younger people, that I’m sure many would have a problem with my having a problem with it.

An acquaintance returns my call, and I say, “I appreciate your calling me back so quickly.” He replies, “No problem.” How could I have a problem with such a harmless response? Well, let's keep it in perspective: I’m happy that he returned my call so promptly. But the response of “No problem” implies something: It makes me wonder if my call might be a problem for him. It sort of sounds like, “I’m a busy guy, but I can tolerate talking to you.”

Customer service employees are often trained to avoid saying “no problem” for this very reason. The words “no” and “problem” don’t evoke warm, fuzzy feelings. As customer service consultant Micah Solomon puts it, “Even when ‘no problem’ is delivered cheerfully and authentically, it still carries baggage with it: Saying ‘no problem’ in response to a customer request implies that the customer — or what they’re asking for — is a problem.”

When a friend or acquaintance returns our call promptly, and we thank them, how much warmer would it feel if they said “I’m happy to call you back,” or, “It’s good to hear from you,” or, “It’s been a while. So nice to hear your voice!”

These small adjustments in our language may seem trivial, but they can create a warmer, more connected climate for our conversation — assuming we are indeed happy to hear from someone. I’m not suggesting that we fake it or overstate it, but rather convey our actual felt experience. Sadly, we often don’t reveal how much our friends mean to us. A slight tweak of our language might nurture our relationships and deepen our friendships.

"It was nothing."

When someone thanks us for performing a kind act, we may dismiss it by saying “It was nothing” or “No big deal.” Our intention may be to alleviate any guilt the person may feel for needing a favor. But by deflecting their appreciation, we may miss an opportunity to connect in a deeper way.

Rather than say, “It was nothing,” we might enhance a warmer, more positive feeling if we simply say, “You are very welcome,” “I was happy to do it for you,” or “My pleasure.” It leaves me feeling more connected when I sense that the person received my gratitude gracefully rather than minimizing or dismissing it. If we can find the courage to allow ourselves to be a little more vulnerable, by giving and receiving appreciation, we may be rewarded with warmer connections in our lives.

It can feel good to help someone. Notice how you feel when you perform a kind act for someone. Did it drag you down, lift your spirits, or was it neutral? Did you feel satisfaction in helping them? If the latter, how might it feel to convey that?

The National Science Foundation has reported that an unprecedented number of Americans feel lonely and isolated. Although there are many reasons for this, it may be useful to notice the subtle ways we can push people away in our everyday interaction, rather than inviting them toward us.

By noticing day-to-day opportunities to interact with people in more meaningful ways, we can take a small step toward creating more intimacy in our lives and communities.​

© John Amodeo

Facebook image: Svitlana Sokolova/Shutterstock

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