A new (and fascinating) study from Preply took a look at "regrettable language" we use in stressful situations. The study examines the way we as humans tend to use words and phrases we don't necessarily mean, but can't help ourselves when faced with a high-pressure situation.

The study also found some of the most triggering phrases in the English language, including one that instills fear and anxiety in more than half of Americans, including Iowans.

Before we look at phrases, let's look at some of the key findings in Preply's study, including:

  • The majority (80%) of Americans say their tone becomes more hurtful when stressed.
  • When stress levels rise, 87% confess to using language they later regret.
  • “I don’t care” is the #1 phrase Americans regret saying at work.
  • A notable 76% say stressed communication has hurt their personal relationships.

Here's Preply's methodology for determining these phrases:

On October 19, 2023, we surveyed 996 Americans on their experiences with stress and its impact on communication. Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 76 years old and were 49% female, 49% male, and 2% nonbinary. - per Preply

Photo Credit: Preply
Photo Credit: Preply

When it comes to work phrases that we regret using in the moment, "I don't care" is overwhelmingly the one we regret using the most. It usually comes in the heat of a disagreement that has both sides stressed and emotional. "Not my job" is another one I guarantee we've all said at one point in time. "It's pointless" is another good one too.

Here's Preply's analysis of negative language in the workplace:

A significant 62% of employees report that exposure to others’ negativity at work has dampened their motivation and job satisfaction. Yet nearly 2 in 5 acknowledge that their workplace culture is permissive towards such language without repercussions.


This acceptance of negativity is most pronounced in industrial and manufacturing sectors, where 66% report a higher tolerance, followed by the hospitality industry at 42%, and corporate sectors at 39%. - per Preply

Photo Credit: Preply
Photo Credit: Preply

Now, let's talk about triggering phrases for Iowans and Americans. A whopping 65% of people are made anxious and uncomfortable with the phrase, "I have some bad news." I think the other 35% are lying. "We need to talk" is a close second with 63% reporting that they are triggered by that phrase.

Preply also gave tips on how we can best avoid using these triggering phrases:

“Use phrases like ‘I understand that this news may be challenging to hear, and I want you to know that I’m here for you.’ Deliver the information straightforwardly, avoiding unnecessary ambiguity. Being clear helps the person process the news more effectively.”


“Immediately follow up with any available support or potential solutions. This shows that you’re not just delivering bad news but are committed to assisting in navigating the challenges. You could explain, ‘We’re here to support you through this. Let’s discuss how we can work together to find the best way forward.’” - per Preply

Read more about Preply's language study on their website.

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