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

Updated

There are many situations in life where you may find yourself caught off guard and at a loss for words. Even if you’re not surprised, you may be wondering if what you’re saying is helpful or appropriate. It’s a good idea to have a few phrases in your back pocket that you can use when the time presents itself. 

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Remember that it is always okay to take a pause before responding. The pause will always feel longer in your head than it actually is. Remember to take a deep breath before you reach for one of these phrases. Saying the ‘perfect’ thing will always be out of reach. Instead, arm yourself with a few simple responses that you can adjust for various scenarios. 

We've got you covered with some ideas to help you prepare for these situations. Here’s a list of 30 things to say when you aren’t sure what to say. 

What to Say When You Aren’t Sure What to Say After a Tragedy or Death

When you hear terrible news, it’s completely normal to be at a loss for words. The last thing you want to do is say something inappropriate or awkward. Whatever you decide to say, it’s a good idea to keep it simple. Here are some ideas you can always expound upon. 

1. “I’m so sad to hear this news.”

Whether someone is sick, has passed, or you’re receiving some other tough news, this is a simple and warm way to express support. 

2. “My heart is broken for you.”

Try this one instead of offering cliche responses such as, ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘they’re in a better place.’ Saying that your heart is broken for them offers empathy and might help them feel less alone.

3. “I am here for you.”

If you aren’t sure how to respond to terrible news, letting the person know you are here for anything they need is a very supportive response. 

You could also let them know you’re just a phone call away, or suggest some practical ways you can offer support through their difficult time. 

4. “My heart is with you.”

Letting someone know that you care for them, and that your heart is with them, can help them feel not so alone. This is simple, loving, and to the point. 

5. “I am stunned by this terrible news.”

Sometimes, just acknowledging the gravity of the news you’ve received can be enough. You can always follow this up with offers of support or condolences

6. “There are no words to express what you must be going through. I am so sorry.”

It is okay and appropriate to express that you don’t know what to say. Sometimes pain and grief are beyond any explanation. 

It can be comforting and validating to know that your pain and grief are seen, and have left someone else at a loss for words. 

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What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say After Someone Delivers Good News 

When someone is sharing good news with you, they likely expect you to be happy for them. It’s always good to hide any non-joyous feelings that may come up for you — whether it’s doubt, concern, or even a touch of envy.

You can always express these later on after you’ve done some processing and reflecting. It’s a good idea to have a more in-depth conversation until the person has come down a little from their initial excitement. 

If this news is a big deal in their life, they’ll always remember your initial reaction. Here are some supportive ways to react when someone shares good news.  

7. “I am so excited for you!”

Simple and to the point — let them know how excited you are for them and get all the details. 

8. “Let’s celebrate!”

You can follow-up this exclamation for an invitation to a celebratory meal or drinks. Hanging out with friends is always more fun when there’s good news to celebrate. 

9. “Congratulations!”

Short, sweet, simple, and always a good one to follow-up with a warm embrace. 

10. “I couldn’t be happier for you. I’d love to hear more about it!”

Asking for details gives legitimacy to their good news. Letting them know you are happy, interested, and want to hear more is super supportive. 

Plus, if you are having some reservations, more information might be just what you need to change your tune or consider how you want to broach a difficult conversation later on.

11. “That is amazing!”

Share in their enthusiasm with a warm exclamation.

12. “This is the best news I’ve heard all day!”

This is a great way to make someone feel special. You’re letting them know that their good news is your good news!

What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say in a Professional Setting or Interview

There can be a lot of pressure in a professional setting to speak and act in a certain way. We always want to put our best foot forward when it comes to our careers. Here are some ideas of things to say in different scenarios you may find yourself in during an interview or in your workplace. 

13. “Thank you so much for this opportunity.”

This is perfect for the end of an interview, or in a thank you note following the interview. 

14. “I’m looking forward to getting to know you a bit and hearing more about this role.”

Curiosity is a wonderful attribute for good conversation. Interviewers want to hear about your qualifications, but they also want to be sure you’re a good fit for the team you’ll be working with. 

Being interested in the interviewer and the role is a good way to start winning favor. Plus, you’re likely to get some information you can circle back to and also reference later on in your thank you note. Hiring managers appreciate this attention to detail. 

15. “What’s on your mind?”

If you are a supervisor and are meeting with a team member, this is a great way to start. When you ask someone what’s on their mind, they are likely to get straight to the most important topics that they’re either excited for or are weighing heavily on them. 

16. “I’m so grateful for your support.”

‘Thank yous,’ especially in the professional setting, can sometimes be uncomfortable. Unless you are really close with the person, keep your gratitude simple. 

This is a sincere, but not over the top way to thank your colleague, boss, or client for their help with something.

17. “Please allow me to apologize for…”

Like ‘thank yous,’ ‘sorrys’ can be quite awkward. It is even more important with an apology to be simple, succinct, and sincere. Don’t grovel, but do be specific. Say what you are apologizing for and then pause to leave space and time to listen to their response. 

18. “Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to meet with me.”

This is a good one to have at the ready anytime somebody takes time to meet with you. It works if you are thanking someone for interviewing you, mentoring you, supporting you with a project, or considering becoming your client. 

By thanking someone for taking time out of their busy schedule, you are acknowledging that their time is valuable. 

What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say When You’re With New Friends or Strangers

Whether you’re at a party, hanging out with mutual friends, meeting your partner’s colleagues, or on a first date, figuring out what to say can be anxiety-provoking. Here are some short and simple phrases you can use to kickstart a natural flow of conversation. 

19. “It’s so nice to meet you!”

Sometimes, the basics really are the best option. Start with some variation of it’s ‘nice to meet you,’ and see if they’ll return the sentiment and initiate more conversation. If they don’t start talking, keep reading for more ideas. 

20. “What brings you here?”

If you’re meeting someone at an event, for instance, asking what led them to the event is a great conversation starter. Plus, you can find out a bit more about them. Hopefully, the conversation will take off from there.

21. “How did you guys meet?”

If you are meeting up with some mutual friends, you can get things going by asking how they know your friend. 

This one also works if you are meeting a friend’s significant other for the first time. The story of how they met is sure to be fascinating, and you can ask lots of follow-up questions to get to know them better.

22. “I’m looking forward to getting to know you better!”

This is a very warm, but casual way to open up a new friendship. Let the person know you are interested in them and that you are looking forward to your friendship to come. 

23. “I love your hat!”

Compliment an accessory that your new acquaintance can tell you more about. This will make them feel seen, show that you’re interested in talking to them, and give them a topic to share. 

It’s a good idea to talk about an accessory rather than their appearance so it doesn’t come off as creepy or send the wrong message. The exception for this might be if you’re on a date. Then complimenting someone’s eyes or smile is typically a safe bet. Always use your best judgment and be sincere. 

24. “This weather is crazy!”

Okay, we know weather-small-talk is so cliche, but hear us out. All you need is for the other person to say some small detail about their life related to the weather, and you’ve got a conversation starter. 

Maybe they say, “I know! I got soaked on my way to work today!” You can ask if they take public transportation to work and discuss that. This has opened up the conversation to their career, and now you’re on a roll. 

25. “What are you thinking about getting on the menu?”

If you’re on a date or meeting a new friend at a restaurant, food conversation is the perfect way to break the ice. When it comes to food, there are endless preferences, and so much to discuss.

26. “Your dog is so cute!”

If you are meeting someone for the first time, and they have a pet with them, this is a great way to engage in conversation. People love talking about their pets. 

27. “I’m so happy I got to meet you today.”

This one is similar to the basic ‘nice to meet you,’ but can be used when you’re saying goodbye to someone you just met. This will definitely make your new friend feel special, and hopefully, they will look forward to seeing you again.

28. “I love this song!”

If you’re at a party and a song you love comes on, use it as an ice breaker. This should spur a conversation about music and could lead to TV, movies, and other entertainment topics.

Don’t play pretend with this one. It would be very embarrassing if they realized you don’t actually know or enjoy the song. 

29. “How did you get involved with this event?”

If you’re at a charity or corporate event and are seated next to strangers, ask this question to find out more about them. 

30. Tell a joke. 

If you’re at a loss for words, it can really lighten the mood to crack a joke. Don’t say something silly out of nerves. First, take a pulse of the scene. Don’t lead with something risqué. If you think saying something funny will go over well, go for it! 

Be Natural! 

The most important thing you can remind yourself when you’re not sure what to say is that you don’t have to say the ‘perfect’ or ‘right’ thing. Do your best to stay calm and respond naturally. Pick one or two sayings for each scenario that resonate with you and make them your own. 

Being curious is a great way to respond in a way that takes the pressure off of saying the right thing. If someone has shared great news with you, share their excitement by asking details. If you’re meeting someone for the first time, don’t pretend to be perfect. The best conversationalists don’t know it all, they are curious. Being interested makes people interesting! 

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