Don’t Take Words Literally

I’ve spent time in the last couple of weeks interacting with completely new people. These instances reminded me of one aspect of communication that is best to accept quickly in American culture.

Some words spoken are not literally meant.

You will do much better by looking behind the veneer and grasp the meaning of the whole phrase.

Some examples come to mind.

How are you doing?

Let’s get together soon.

Come by any time.

Don’t be a stranger.

The first memory of struggling with these phrases brings a lump to my throat.

I am in the hall of my High School and I am literally giving an answer to a phrase that requires a one-word response.

I could see how the person’s face is changing and the body-language shows signs of retreat and desire to escape.

Awkward, to say the least.

 “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”

Dr. Brené Brown


This is a polite exchange.

A single-word answer is expected.

You can make it your own. I will sometimes throw out something superlative like “Fantastic! How are you?”






This one is another example of an idiom. It’s a form of approval, a way to end the conversation on a positive affirmation.


This is simply said to encourage you to stay in touch.

Don’t take it literally and personally.

Once again, polite words.  No literal meaning.

Response: thank you!

Now, I have experimented with this code.  I have responded right away, proposing an opportunity to meet and continue the conversation.

Being polite, some people accepted.  Only to cancel at the last minute, wrapping it all back into politeness.  

Accept it – people want to and will be polite.  

If they want to follow up with an invitation, they certainly will include it specifically in the conversation or send you a message.  If they want to know how you are doing, they will check-in. But most likely, not.

Don’t join a fitness club in hopes to meet people.  In the US, people come to the gym uber focused, there’s no chit-chat in the locker rooms, no friendly exchange in the gym hall.

Some ideas:

[wpdiscuz-feedback id=”00001” question=”Would you agree? What are your thoughts?” opened=”0”]Most certainly, create and reach out to the people that you find interesting, engage in social events.   When reaching out to someone, give the person a few options on dates and times. Engage. Engage smartly. [/wpdiscuz-feedback]

 Consider your own interests first and foremost.

 Are you a runner? – Search Facebook groups for a local running club.

 Do you dance? – Search for a salsa class.

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