Is Your ‘But’ Getting in the Way?

Published on February 8, 2011 by Annetta Wilson

A big 'But' can be a problem.  No, not THAT one, that one has an extra 'T'.  The one I'm talking about usually shows up in the middle of a statement.

The word 'but' has magical powers.  We use it all the time, but rarely do we think about its impact.  The magical power in the word is that it erases everything before it, which is not necessarily a good thing.

Think about it: you make a statement and then follow it with the word 'but'. You've just cancelled everything you said.  For example:  'I really like the job you did, BUT, next time you might want to pay more attention to..."

Do you REALLY think the person heard the compliment?  I doubt it.

We mean well and often have the person's best interest at heart.  However, (which is another way of saying 'but', by the way) what we forget is that the quality of our communication is how the other person receives it.

If you're in the middle of a heated discussion and you use the word 'but', what you're usually saying is that the other person's opinion or position is irrelevant.   Not a good place to find consensus, is it?

'But' has a lot of 'cousins'...the words 'however', 'although', 'except', 'yet' and 'nevertheless' are all in the same family.

Tip: The next time you're tempted to use the word 'but' or any of its relatives, try using the word 'and' instead.

For example, "I appreciate your perspective AND I can see how you arrived at that conclusion.  There may be some related issues we can discuss."

The old you may have said, "I appreciate your perspective, BUT there are some related issues we can discuss."

Admittedly, the difference is subtle.  That is until you realize that the first statement acknowledges the person's viewpoint and the second statement dismisses it.

You can also use the words "I respect...AND... or "I agree...AND...

This is not easy.  I recently attended a workshop where we did this exercise.  For a former reporter like me, who is excited by 'interviewing' people and being a bit of an instigator, this was tortuous!

The value of the exercise is that it makes you extremely conscious of whether your conversation is respectful of opinions and viewpoints that don't agree with yours.

Try it.  You may find that your 'buts' can use a little reducing!

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2 Responses

  1. David

    I read a lot of the post and find them useless. Your posting is fantastic advice. Thank you

  2. Mujiba Salaam Parker

    Annetta, thanks for this post. I will definitely think twice before I use this small "AND" significant word again! :)


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