What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

Do you ever have those moments when someone says something that renders you speechless? Your brain gets flooded, your tongue gets tied, and you simply don’t know what to say?

Perhaps later you think of what you could have said or wish you’d said. Or maybe you get support from someone else who suggests what might have been a respectful and helpful comeback. You may wonder, Why didn’t I think of that?

Many people feel like a deer in headlights when someone says something that feels hurtful or out of left field. With no prepared comeback, we may be speechless.

Much like learning any new language, it takes preparation and practice to learn and become fluent in the language of assertive, respectful communication.

The following statements and questions can help you become better prepared for those challenging conversational moments. As you read through the list, if one or more statements resonate for you, consider jotting them down to keep in your back (or front) pocket for future use.

  • Why do you ask that?
  • What are you hoping to have happen right now?
  • I’ll have to get back to you on that.
  • I need to take some time to think about it.
  • That’s not going to work for me.
  • Ouch. That feels hurtful. I need a minute.
  • I know I agreed to do that, but I changed my mind. I’m very sorry.
  • I understand that’s how you feel. I’m hoping you can try to understand how I feel too.
  • It’s okay if we disagree.
  • What do you need from me right now?
  • It’s okay for you to be mad, but it’s not okay for you to be disrespectful.
  • What you have to say is important to me but it’s getting lost in the way you are saying it.
  • I’m wondering if you’d be willing to lower your voice because I really want to hear what you have to say, but I can’t think clearly with how our conversation is going right now.
  • If you can’t lower your voice, I’m going to have to take a break from this conversation even though I really want to hear what you have to say.
  • I feel a lot of strong emotions about what you just said and I don’t want to react harshly, so I’d like to take some time before I respond.
  • I’m curious what your intention is in saying that.
  • I will totally take a look at that.
  • This feels really hard for me to say, but I need to tell you that __________.
  • I’m making up a story about what you’re thinking. Can I check it out with you and see if it’s true?
  • I’m so sorry that felt hurtful. That was truly not my intention.
  • I have a request to make. If you can do it, that’s great. If you can’t, that’s okay too. I’m just going to ask.
  • I know you love me and I don’t think you’re intending to be hurtful, but when you say ____________ to me, it feels hurtful and I would appreciate it if you’d try to stop saying that.
  • I really need you to stop commenting on my ______________.
  • I would really appreciate it if you would stop ______________.
  • I’m not sure what to do at this point because I’ve asked you to stop ___________ and you continue to do it, so something needs to change here.
  • I need to ask for a change in the way we talk or are with each other, and I’m hoping you are willing to hear me out.
  • I’m not sure how to respond. Give me a minute, please.
  • Can we make time to talk?
  • I realize I’ve been holding something inside for a while that I’d like to tell you. I needed to take the time to figure out how to say it in a respectful way.
  • I have something challenging to say and I’m wondering if you’d be willing to just listen and hear me out?
  • I have something to tell you that feels really hard to say. What I would most appreciate from you after I tell you is ____________.
  • I’m wondering if there’s a way I could have worded it that would have made it easier for you to hear?
  • I don’t necessarily need you to agree or understand what I’m saying, but I’d really appreciate it if you would try to accept it.
  • It seems from your response that I may not have communicated clearly or that you may have misunderstood what I said (or did). I’d like to try again if you’re open to it.
  • That really makes sense to me that you feel that way.
  • Thank you for telling me your perspective on what happened. I really want to try to understand how you feel.
  • Thank you for telling me what you feel and need. I will try never to do or say that again.
  • Thank you for telling me what you feel and need. I will never do or say that again.
  • That makes me very uncomfortable and I need to ask you to stop.
  • I want us both to be able to share our thoughts and feelings, but in order to do that we need to take turns. Do you want to go first or second?
  • I wasn’t done speaking yet. Can I continue?
  • I’m wondering if I can express something and ask you to listen until I am totally finished?
  • I wonder if you could say something about what I just shared before we switch topics?
  • When you say (or do) _____________ I feel ______________ (preferably one word here, i.e., sad, angry, frustrated, hurt, concerned, etc.) and I would prefer it if you would _____________.
  • This is scary for me to say, so I’m hoping you can really listen and not give me any advice.
  • I know we already spoke about _________ but it doesn’t feel complete to me. Would you be open to talking about it some more?
  • I wish I had said that differently. Can I get a do-over?
  • What do you need in order for this to feel complete?

If you find yourself in a heated conversation or the recipient of a statement that clouds your thinking, may one or more of these one-liners see you through.

View on Psychology Today

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