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How Not to Hurt People’s Feelings: The 20 Golden Rules You Need

how not to hurt people's feelings

It’s impossible to live life never hurting a soul. But try to guide your interactions by these 20 golden rules for how not to hurt people’s feelings.

It seems like everyone is walking around on egg shells these days. In my day, we didn’t get so butt hurt about every little thing. But, understanding how not to hurt people’s feelings is not as easy anymore.

The key to not stepping on someone’s emotions is to know what makes them tick, know when you take things too far, and to go by the “Thumper rule” *if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all*.

Follow these 20 golden rules to know how not to hurt people’s feelings

There are things to decrease the likelihood that you unwittingly make someone feel bad. Some people find a way to take any and everything personally, so you can’t walk around worried all the time. There is always going to be someone offended by something.

#1 Don’t point out what makes them different unless it makes them exceptional. No one likes to be different unless those differences make them feel special or exceptional. If you notice something unusual about someone, don’t point it out unless it makes them feel good or they will end up getting hurt. [Read: 11 simple ways to inspire the people around you]

#2 Always try to use a filter, think before you speak. Some of us have an easier time self-monitoring than others. If you are a “shoot first, ask questions later” type of conversationalist, think twice before you say things and consider who is within ear shot.

There are a lot of sensitive people in this world and what might seem like a joke to you, may be offensive and hurt someone’s feelings. Put a filter on it when with people you don’t know well or are sensitive.

#3 Think “would I want someone to say that to me” before you say something. If you think about whether what you say is something that might potentially offend you, then you decrease the likelihood that you unwittingly hurt someone’s feelings. Close to a filter on your words, try a little empathy before you speak. [Read: 22 ways to make someone feel better]

#4 Watch what you do on social media. You don’t have to say something directly to someone’s face to hurt their feelings. When you post on social media, don’t just think about the select three of your hundreds of followers that will think it’s funny.

Consider that whatever you post will be seen by everyone you connect with. Social media is an excellent way to hurt several people at once without even thinking. If you have a personal joke, keep it personal with the people who will think it is a joke only.

#5 Add emojis when things are questionable. If you know that what you have to say has the potential to be read wrong, then preface it or follow it with an emoji.

When someone reads a message, they read it from their own frame of mind, with their own hang ups or emotions attached. If you want to make sure you aren’t misunderstood and that your tone of friendliness comes through, include an emoji to head up any confusion. [Read: Funny emojis couples need to use more often]

#6 Constructive criticism is sometimes just criticism. Don’t think that it is your job to correct everyone that you see doing something you think is wrong. If you have things to criticize, don’t offer them unless asked for *unless that is part of your job description*.

Even if it is part of your job, don’t criticize people by putting them down. Rather point out all the good things first and then try to explain to them how they can “make it better.” Saying things like “your writing sucks” isn’t constructive, it is just nasty.

#7 Don’t be Captain Obvious. If someone screwed up or already feels bad about something, don’t further hurt them by rubbing salt into their wound. If someone confides in you about a problem they experience, something stupid they did, or the trouble they are in, help by listening, not by repeating all their mistakes. They already know. Hence, why they came to you. [Read: Conversational narcissist – Do you love talking and hate listening?]

#8 Don’t exclude people. Remember when in grammar school and everyone got invited to Susie’s party but you? Being excluded doesn’t hurt any less as you mature. When possible, try to include people rather than exclude them. Instead of thinking someone can’t or won’t come, invite them anyway and let the onus be on them. It is much better to say no than find out you were never invited.

#9 Nicknames aren’t always cool, even if someone pretends they are. Yep, not every guy likes to be called “dickweed,” but they probably aren’t going to tell you because it makes them a pussy or uncool.

#10 If you know that something is sentimental, make it off limits. If you know they wear a shitty piece of jewelry because their dead mother passed it down, don’t dare say a word. If something means something to a person, don’t squash it by putting it down or tainting it with your negative opinion.

#11 Don’t cut down their family members, even if they do, it isn’t an invitation to join in. Yep, there is an unwritten reality. I can call my sister a slut, but when you do it, it is offensive. People vent about their families, but that isn’t an invitation for you to join in. Stay neutral and on their side, but don’t cross the line. [Read: How to be a good friend – The friend code you must follow]

#12 If they think their outfit is cool, it isn’t up to you to break it to them. Not everyone looks like a fashion model. If you know someone put a lot of thought and effort into dressing appropriately, just let them have it instead of hurting them by stealing their thunder.

#13 Don’t talk about plans in front of someone who isn’t invited. If you want to hurt someone’s feelings, talk about the great night or vacation you planned together in front of someone who isn’t invited or can’t come along. We all realistically know that we can’t be invited or included in everything, but rubbing it in just sucks.

#14 White lies are sometimes necessary. “Do these jeans make me look fat?” The answer is no. Yep, white lies are sometimes necessary when it comes to knowing how not to hurt other people’s feelings. Why tell someone the truth if they feel good about themselves and no one gets hurt. Just let them feel good.

#15 Life isn’t kindergarten recess. Don’t call anyone names. Golden rule. Learn it, live it. Don’t be a bully. [Read: 9 golden rules to becoming a better person]

#16 Don’t tell someone that you think their significant other is anything but lovely. If you don’t have to sleep with someone, it isn’t your business whether they are attractive or not. Keep your opinions about someone’s looks to yourself. Sometimes meanness to the people we love hurts even more than first-hand ugliness.

#17 “No offense, but…”, is no way to start a sentence. If you must preface, it is offensive, so keep it to yourself.

#18 Listen to what they say and what their body language tells you, not just one or the other. Don’t assume what people say is what they think. Sometimes their inside voice is different from their outside voice. If they slump or look sad, whatever you do hurts them, so quit.

#19 Try not to repeat mistakes from the past. If someone told you something hurts their feelings, make a mental note of it so that you don’t do it again. Once is a mistake, more than once, is intentional. [Read: 30 signs you’re a really shallow person who can’t read other people]

#20 Just say you are sorry. Don’t try to convince someone that since you didn’t mean to hurt their feelings, you didn’t, or that they don’t have a right to be hurt. If you hurt someone’s feelings, which is inevitable, there are two words that take the hurt away. I’m sorry. You don’t even have to be sorry for what you did, just sorry you made them feel bad.

There is never going to be a way not to hurt someone’s feelings at some point. In fact, sometimes we say things not meant to hurt, but they are mistaken. The more sensitive the person you deal with, the more likely you are to hurt their feelings.

[Read: 10 negative effects of taking someone for granted you can’t undo]

Following these 20 golden rules is the best way to truly know how not to hurt people’s feelings. But whether you mean to hurt someone or not, matters not, if you do, just say “I’m sorry.”  

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Julie Keating
Julie Keating

A writer isn’t born, but created out of experiences. No lack of subject matter, my life reads more like fiction than anything that could have been imagined...

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