People Skills: Are You Surprised By Effect of This Phrase?

People skills allow us to communicate honestly without offending others. When we are mindful of others’ needs and views, we can find the right words and skills to express without excoriating them.

One phrase that surprisingly excoriates others is:

“I am surprised by your …”

Does that surprise you? Let’s consider what it can mean to others.

People skills reminder: Image is the word mindful.

People Skills: Are You Surprised by Effect of This Phrase?

Image by: Sweet Dreamz Design

People Skills: Effects of the ‘Surprised By’ Statement

  • The phrase “I am surprised by your …” immediately highlights a gap between you and them. That’s where it can excoriate.
  • It sets up an image of you judging them. That’s how it can excoriate them.

Examples to Illustrate

  • I am surprised by your commitment. Is this a compliment? What does this statement truly mean? When leaders say this to a team member, is it a criticism of past behavior or applause for current effort?
  • You have surprised me with your talent. Well what did you think of them before? A lummox of limited value?

Skip the gap and the judgmentalism. When we are pleased with someone’s behavior, let’s express our full pleasure. “I am thrilled with your commitment.” “Your talents impress me.”

When we believe it is essential to reference past behavior, let’s do it honestly and with care. “In the past, I wanted more commitment from you. I am very grateful for it now.”

Without the innuendo of the phrase, “surprised by”, we take full ownership of our opinion and expectation. It is respectful not judgmental. Our message is clear and caring.

Our people skills smooth the way to bonds of success by being mindful of the impact of our choices.
The path is clear. The rewards for all are great.

Question: What other phrase excoriates others – whether we intend it or not?

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™

Related Post: People Skills: Replace the Deadly Don’t You Think

©2013 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. I appreciate your sharing the link to this post on your social streams. However, if you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.

8 Responses to “People Skills: Are You Surprised By Effect of This Phrase?”

  1. Khalid says:

    I’m so much impressed by your energy Kate 🙂

    Thanks for your excellent posts.

    To answer (or try to answer) your question of other phrases excoriate others, I think the word “why” can excoriate people if it was asked to point fingers as in: Why haven’t you done that? Why didn’t you thought of this? Why shouldn’t you do this?

    If you were to ask for something, replace the ‘why’ with ‘how’ and show some empathy when asking like How can you do this better next time? How can you avoid such mistake in future? How can you learn from that experience?

    Helping others come up with their reasons for not doing something is better than cornering them with a why question!

    By the way, your #peopleskills chat was awesome 🙂


    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Khalid,
      So glad you found the Twitter chat valuable and pleased you were involved. Your addition to this post: I think the killer part is the focus on the past. Why “didn’t” and you “shouldn’t”. This will always sound like blame and criticism instead of learning and valuable correction!

      Many thanks for commenting!


  2. To me, the phrase “It surprised me that…” sounds condescending, unless perhaps it were followed by a comment that showed one’s own vulnerability or appreciation. For instance, “Your kindness surprises me. My experience is that most people would have walked right by me without offering to help me”. (This comes to mind because I was just in NYC on crutches with a sprained ankle). It is always fascinating to me how varied people’s responses are to this situation (I have lots of practice with crutches), even with people you know. But still there is probably a better phrase. “Your kindness touched me.”

    I think if you truly mean, “I am impressed by your talent. I think I underestimated you”, it is better to leave “surprised” out.
    I think the “it surprised me” is definitely a kind of “gotcha” that sets people up to feel anxious and less than.

    Thanks for the post. I would love to join the twitter chat some time!


    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Chris,
      Thanks for the wonderful examples. In every case, I agree with your last comment to leave the “surprised” out.

      Even in the case where you noted ..”my experience is that most people …”, we always diminish the joy and gratitude a bit by adding it in. Imagine saying: Your kindness touches me especially while I am on crutches.” This could still evoke the a conversation about “I have lots of practice with crutches” yet doesn’t bring us to the world of underestimation.

      In the case of “I am impressed by your talent” — let that echo with inspiration instead of dampening it with underestimation.

      Many many thanks for your contribution to this post. I welcome you most definitely in the Sunday #Peopleskills Twitter chat 10AM ET/3pm GMT.

      Best regards,

      • Yes, as I was writing the comment, I kept trying to think of a way that “surprised” could have a different intent or tone, but I think I came to the conclusion that it just doesn’t as you point out.
        I thought later about it too, that no matter what the situation I would not feel comfortable using the phrase. In the example with my crutches, it puts others down to comment on someone else’s kindness that way and I don’t like how that feels! I think it is partly that if someone said the phrase to me (it surprises me…), I would be trying to see the best intention in their comment!
        Another thought I had is about how best to deal with someone who says this phrase to you…do you look for the best intention and react to that only, do you ask them to clarify their meaning and purpose, or do you tell them how it feels. I know that it depends on the situation and the relationship to the person; I think my tendency to want to see the best intention is not always wise or helpful.
        I will hope to join your twitter chat soon! Thanks for stimulating my thoughts on this so much.

        • Kate Nasser says:

          Exactly Chris. It complicates so much. It puts the listener into an awkward situation when they could just be enjoying the positive. When we simplify and focus in on one positive message, it uplifts all!

          I do look forward to your contributions in the #peopleskills Twitter chat on Sundays 10AM EST/3pm GMT.

  3. Gary Winters says:

    This isn’t really one phrase, but overall, I find it extremely condescending when someone “helpfully” explains something to me without knowing or asking if I need it explained. It’s even worse when they “correct” a point that’s already accurate. But I have to pick and choose my battles, and often I’ll let the behavior go for the sake of peace.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Gary, These are wonderful additions. I can feel my stomach cringing at the thought of it. Condescension is a stinker!

      Many thanks for your contribution here.

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