25 Words That Make Other People Feel Inferior

Your words have the power to elevate and inspire those around you. Or, to do just the opposite.

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By John Rampton Originally published

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Did you know that in every language, there are more negative words than positive ones? It seems we need lots of words to describe our negative feelings, but we're content with a handful of positive ones.

For instance, researchers have found that most cultures have words for seven basic emotions: joy, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, shame and guilt.

That's one positive emotion and six negative emotions.

It's no wonder so many of us have a hard time keeping our negative comments in check. Over the past six months, I've been working on the verbal language that I've been using that I don't even realize hurts others and in some cases makes them feel inferior. I even noticed that I've used a couple on my personal and business website. This is a "no-no" that I needed to fix.

This post will list 25 negative words you should avoid so that you stop hurting, belittling and intimidating those around you.



When you tell someone they can't do something, oftentimes they'll end up believing you (whether you're right or not). This is particularly true if the person has come to trust and respect your opinions.



"Dumb" is a cop-out, and is just one of those words you should never use. If you truly believe someone is of below-average intelligence, telling them they're dumb is going to do nothing to encourage or motivate them.



If your parents ever called you irresponsible, you know how it feels. Reserve this word for situations in which it's truly warranted, or risk alienating and intimidating those around you.



In his book, The Hidden Messages in Water, Japanese scientist Masaru Emote detailed some experiments he conducted into the impact of words on both the world and on our health. For one of his most notable experiments, he placed two identical jars of rice side by side, labelling one "Thank you" and the other "You fool." He then brought the jars to a local school, and asked students to repeat those phrases to the jars twice each day. The result? The rice that had been praised daily remained white and fluffy, while the other disintegrated into a black, goopy mess. Sounds like the Twilight Zone, but that was the result of his experiment.



The mother of all negative words, "no" can impact us down to our very core. In fact, research tells us that we react more slowly to the word "no" than to "yes," and that even our brains respond differently when we're told no. This is a great reminder to use this word sparingly.



As in, "You're a failure." Is there ever really a reason to use this word in relation to another person? Until three months ago I used this on my payments landing page. I told people in a subheading "Failure isn't an option." Now I put "Success is your only option." Low and behold, when people read that far on the page they stop and read it multiple times. It also converts better. Positive beats negative in every situation.

Related: Emotional Intelligence: 10 Things You Must Know



Using this word to describe someone's actions ---or even worse, their character -- is unhelpful and grossly non-specific. Unless someone's actions are truly "bad," there are likely much more accurate and helpful words you can use to offer constructive criticism.


If someone has ever told you they're ashamed of you, you know how disheartening this can be. If you're ever tempted to say it, ask yourself if there's a less hurtful word you can use to express your disappointment.


In the way

As in, "You're getting in the way of what I'm trying to do." This is a great phrase to use if you want someone to feel totally useless and insignificant. If that's not what you're trying to convey, consider using a different word.



This is a favorite word chosen by less-than-effective bosses who really want to intimidate their employees. It's one thing to tell an employee they need to try harder, or that they aren't meeting your expectations. It's a whole other story to tell them they're incapable of doing their job.



This word carries a depth of meaning that most of us would never actually hope to convey. It conjures up images of discrimination and racism, and should be saved for only the most extreme and justified situations. In the excellent documentary, "Erasing Hate," we hear the story of an ex-skinhead who is desperate to remove the racist tattoos from his face, hands and body. One of the most offensive and harmful tattoos, in his opinion? The letters H-A-T-E tattooed across his knuckles.



Calling someone "weird" presupposes that you're the normal one and they're the odd one. In actual fact, we can all be considered "weird" in certain situations or circumstances.



Is there anything worse than being told you're a total disappointment to someone? A better alternative might be to say, "I'm disappointed in what you did." This lets you express your dissatisfaction with an action or behavior, while still showing respect for the person. Another sentence may be, "Well let's try this a different way next time."


Obviously, there are times when this word is useful. However, instead of constantly telling people what they shouldn't be doing, focus on encouraging them to do what you want them to do.

Related: You Don't Say? Body Language Speaks Volumes More Than Words.



Twenty years ago, this word was commonly used to describe someone who was quiet or who avoided the spotlight. However, calling someone shy -- especially in the workplace -- comes across as condescending (e.g., "I know you're really shy, but could you chair tomorrow's meeting?").



Like "don't," wrong has its place. Sometimes, there's no doubt that something is wrong. However, constantly telling someone they're doing something wrong, or that their opinions are wrong, will likely drive a wedge between the two of you. Using this word assumes that only you know best, that you have a monopoly on the truth. Reserve this word for when there's no doubt it's accurate.



This word burns because it suggests an underlying lack of motivation and drive. Save this word for the rare times when there's no other explanation for someone's behavior (or lack thereof).



This is a word that leaves no question about how you really feel. If you tell someone they're inferior to you or someone else, you might as well tell them to just give up.



I guess if you're able to verbalize your feelings of anger as "mad," you're on the right track. However, psychologists sometimes talk about how anger is actually a secondary emotion, used to protect us from feelings that can make us more vulnerable (e.g., sadness, rejection, fear, etc.). When you're tempted to tell someone you're "mad," ask yourself if that's really what you're feeling...or if there's a more specific word you could use to describe the emotion you're experiencing.



Things are boring, not people. If someone seems boring to you, it's probably because you haven't taken the time to really get to know them.



If you're calling someone ugly, it's likely because you have your own issues with self-image. There's never a right time to use this word, at least not in relation to another person. If you're tempted to use it....just don't.

Related: Distracted and Overwhelmed Employees Are Costing You Big. Try These 3 Fixes.



Using absolutes (always, never, etc.) often indicates that you feel very strongly about something...however it may not be an accurate analysis of the situation. If you want to intimidate or hurt someone (e.g., "You fail at everything you try"), using absolutes is great. But if this isn't your intention, it's probably best to take a different approach.



When you're feeling sad or dejected, there's nothing worse than someone saying, "You're so grumpy!" Calling someone grumpy means you don't know - and don't care to know - what underlying emotion or problem the person is dealing with.



Telling someone their idea or opinion is ridiculous is a great way to make him or her feel about two inches tall. It's basically the same as saying, "Your idea is so bad, it's not even worth considering."



Is there ever truly a right time to call another person useless? If you mean that a person isn't working hard, tell them that. If you mean that a person isn't being effective, say that. Calling someone useless is just a way to build yourself up while tearing someone else down.

Any words you would add to this list?

Which words have you found the most hurtful, belittling or intimidating? Share below!

John Rampton

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Entrepreneur and Connector

John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor and startup enthusiast. He is the founder of the calendar productivity tool Calendar.

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