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Communication Shutdown Phrases: How To Stop A Conversation Dead In Its Tracks

Brief Description/Purpose

There are two extremely toxic aspects of communicating that damage both relationships and solving problems. One, as I have said, is IMPERFECT PHRASES, phrases that will almost always cause the other person to react angrily and strike out.

The second type is communication shutdown phrases, which, essentially, stop the constructive conversation cold. This exercise is designed to help people explore how they may be shutting down conversations unintentionally.


Group discussion, small groups.

Age Appropriate

Older teens, Adults

Ideal Group Size

5-8 people per sub-group, but you can also do this interactively with the whole group.

Time For Exercise

15-30 minutes


Communication, conflict

Detailed Instructions If Needed

If you use small groups, they should be about 5-8 pfeople each. If you prefer to use the whole group method, you can simply pose the key questions, and receive answers in the open group.

Explain that the task of each group is to identify at least 15 phrases or words that act as communication shutdowns. Inform them that the purpose of the exercise is to identify things they say that may inadvertently prevent effective communication.

Each group should RANK their phrases, or at least identify the worst five they have come up with.

Ask groups to report back and also ask the group whether they can recall any instance of using the specific phrase. Record them on a flip chart, or have each group write their worst five on a flipchart prior to presenting.

Also ask how one might recover if one accidentally shuts down a conversation.

Additional Information if Available

 Lots of variations. You can add a short demonstration for one or two by having a group or two actually demonstrate, 1) how the phrase stops conversation and 2) how to recover.


Here is a list of twenty-five conversation stoppers as listed by Peter Garber in: Reproducible Communication Icebreakers

  1. Don’t be ridiculous.
  2. It’ll cost too much.
  3. That’s not my responsibility.
  4. We don’t have time.
  5. We’ve never done that before.
  6. That’s not the way we do things around here.
  7. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 8. We’re not ready for that.
  8. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. 10. It will never sell.
  9. We will become the laughing stock of the entire company. We tried that before and it didn’t work.
  10. It simply can’t be done. It’s too radical of a change.
  11. That will make our current equipment obsolete.
  12. It’s not really our problem.
  13. Let’s get back to reality.
  14. Let’s form a committee to decide.
  15. I need to go over the numbers again. 20. It’s not in our budget.
  16. We have done alright without it all this time.
  17. It won’t work here.
  18. Okay, but if it doesn’t work, you’re the one who’s going to get the blame.
  19. I don’t personally agree, but if you insist.
  20. Are you crazy?