Fire Terms are the Words to Avoid, by Vincent Ivan Phipps, MA, Communication Coach and Author of “Speak Like a Pro!”

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In communication, there are certain words that we use on a regular basis that we think are okay or even good to use in a conversation. In actuality, these words can make situations worse.  Call these words Fire Terms, because they create defensiveness in others making conversations heated.

Here are some Fire Terms.


The Heat: Use of the word “but” cancels out everything that was said before it and tells that person that the speaker only cares about what came after it. For example, if you said to someone, “I hear your point, but,” What you are really saying is, “I did not hear your point. In fact I probably didn’t listen to all of it. What I think is important is my own idea.” Although you might not actually be using those words, that is what the person hears.

The Alternative: Instead of saying “but” or beginning your statement with, “Yeah, but…?” Pause instead. After pausing, either make your statement, or, ask them a positive question. For example, “I hear your point. I have not thought of it that way. What are your thoughts about… [insert your idea]?”


The Heat: “Never” makes an unconditional statement. Few things are so definite that they will never happen. It will only take one instance to prove a “never” statement wrong. It makes it seem like you exaggerate and it reduces your credibility when you overuse “never.”

The Alternative: Be specific about what you are saying. Quantify with dates, times, and specifics. For example, instead of saying, “You never agree with the team, ever. It makes me so mad!” say, “You said that the last three suggestions would fail. What suggestions might work?”


The Heat: Use of the word “must” turns a statement into a command.

The Alternative: Give the reasons and desired results by stating the benefits about the desired behavior. For example, instead of saying, “You must get your paper work in on time.” say, “Getting your paperwork in by 5 p.m. Friday will guarantee your paycheck is in your box by 9 a.m. Monday.”

We often get into confrontational situations by saying the wrong words. The best way to avoid those situations is by knowing what NOT to say!

Other Fire Term expressions include:

  • It is what it is.
  • If you say so.
  • I’ll try.

Defensive people are lousy communicators.  Keep your communication cool. Avoid the Fire Terms!

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