People Skills: Change ONE Unfortunate Word for Great #Peopleskills

People Skills: A Single Word Can Make the Difference!


As The People Skills Coach™, I often coach and teach about words that make or break communication in professional and personal relationships.


Unfortunate is one such word.


The dictionary listing of unfortunate wouldn’t make you think it could cause people skills trouble.

Unfortunate …

1. suffering from bad luck
2. unfavorable or inauspicious


But when our words offend people or actions harm others, labeling it unfortunate can be a deadly people skills mistake.


People Skills: Image is the word "OOPS"

People Skills: ONE Unfortunate Word to Change

Using the word unfortunate in this case is insulting to those we’ve hurt because it underplays the impact of what we did to them.


It sounds like a mere oops.


By trivializing the impact, we put the relationship at risk.

Replace that one word — unfortunate — with any one of these words:

Deplorable or
Terrible or
Wholly unacceptable or
Very bad

… to take ownership of the impact and remove confusion.

Although the dictionary has those meanings listed third:

3. regrettable or deplorable

 … few people think of or hear this meaning when someone says:  “That was unfortunate.”


People Skills Lesson – Be Clear & Caring

  1. Be clear about your remorse. Care about their feelings. Be accountable for the impact you had on others. It shows that despite your hurtful actions you want to re-secure the relationship.
  2. Conversely, trivializing the impact puts the relationship and trust completely at risk.

Before speaking, ask yourself which you would want to hear if someone hurt you? “Sorry, that was unfortunate” or “What I did was terrible – I’m very sorry.”


Professional and personal relationships are slowly built and quickly broken.

Even ONE word can make a big difference!


Question: What other words/phrases have you found break trust quickly?


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

Image licensed from

Related posts:
People Skills: Integrity & Authenticity
Words can woo or wound; create bonds not scars.

©2011-2013 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. If you want to re-post or republish this post, please email Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, workshops, keynotes, and DVDs that turn interaction obstacles into interpersonal success for customer service, teamwork, and leading change. Kate fills the gaps of diversity with business wins. See this site for workshops outlines and customer results.

12 Responses to “People Skills: Change ONE Unfortunate Word for Great #Peopleskills”

  1. Thanks Kate. Being clear about usage and nuance is always useful. I’ll add that some of us — especially clarity-seekers — can interpret words and phrases more literally than others. For such members of our audiences it is good to know how they might be hearing any word or phrase we use. My mantra is always in effect: Clarity Leads To Power.

  2. Khalid says:


    I’m really fortunate to follow you on twitter 🙂

    Thanks for the nice post about this unfortunate word 🙂


  3. Alli Polin says:

    You’re spot on, Kate! Years ago I got some great advice… say what something IS instead of what it isn’t. We can’t be afraid of saying that something is awful or devastating if that’s what it is. You’re right, unfortunate feels weak and powerless… not the way to transform a relationship or a poor customer service experience.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thank you Alli. I love the extension you noted: “Not the way to transform a relationship or poor customer service experience.”

      Regards and thanks.

  4. Carl says:

    Excellent post Kate, thank you for your consistent message to improve our social intelligence.

    Best regards,

  5. Quindana says:

    Very nice post. I wasn’t aware of the impact of the use of ‘unfortunate’ in this way. I work in an international setting and as a none native speaker it really helps to be aware of the con notations associated with a certain word choice. So thank you for adding to my knowledge in that area.

    Since you asked. The one word I try to avoid at all cost in any discussion is …but…This obnoxious little word invalidates every effort that went into an argument up until that point. I do my absolute best to extend my counterpart, oposer or discussion partner the curtesy of not using it. I find that in a heated debate nothing is more infuriating than arguments being seemingly casually swept aside with immediately followed by the invalidating: ‘but’.
    In addition and from personal experience I can say that the use of ‘but’ nearly always signals the start of a circular argument cycle. So I take it as a signal to either change tactics, or decide to postpone the discussion or even to end it. Because there is little to be gained by continuing beyond a ‘but’ (pun not intended) it might even be the perfect moment to consider the offer of a temporary truce by suggesting to agree to disagree untill further arguments can be found to continue in a meaningfull way. I’ve found that in critical communication it can really help to pay attention to this flag.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Dear Quindana.
      Many thanks for your feedback on this post AND for the addition of the word “but”. You are quite right that it takes everyone into a circular argument. I have one other, related to apologizing, and that word is “IF”. I wrote a post on it awhile ago … here it is:

      The Perfect Apology and the ONE Word That Destroys It

      warmest regards and thanks for your contribution here. Hope you will visit often and share your perspective!

      • Quindana says:

        Thank you for the link. I just read it and found it to be another excellent piece, adding to my knowledge.

        Let me just add that I really love your tweets. I’m a huge fan and the tweets tempt me time and again into reading your blog. I already look forward to the next one.

        Kind regards

  6. Hi Kate,

    Great post.

    The word “Unfortunate” is an apologist’s tool, not used by those who truly seek justice or forgiveness. The latter requires three things: sincere apology, restitution, and commitment to do better in future. Someone wise said that “Trust is like a sheet of paper – once crumpled, it’ll never be perfect again”. Labeling a misdeed “unfortunate” just crumples the paper more.


    • Kate Nasser says:

      Great analogy and image Michael and I am so grateful that you have shared it here at Smart SenseAbilities blog.

      I hope you will visit often and share more insights on any topic of interest!

      Warmest regards and thanks,

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