Stop Using this Word. (We Know What You Really Mean.)

You may be a really good communicator, but if you use “but” in the way I just did in this sentence, think again. Doing so just negated the positive sentiment I tried to convey in the first half of that message.  Even when you disagree with someone, there is a simple communication strategy you need to start using, to improve the way you engage in the most difficult conversations.

Leave the word “but” out.  

Most of us are guilty of trying to soften the blow of negative feedback or constructive advice by starting with a positive message. That message pivots to the criticism with the word, "but."  Doing this undermines the integrity of your efforts to be thoughtful.   

The negating message delivers a sting to the listener.  

The listener will hear only the second half of what you said.  If you and the listener have exchanged digs in the past, they’ll see right through your message.  It will not be received well.

A message with “but” is passive-aggressive.

The listener will naturally feel defensive.  They may withdraw from the conversation or become agitated. You lose their attention, at best, and quite possibly their respect.  

This one pivotal word, “but,” can derail the entire conversation.  

You want to be heard, so deliver a sincere message they can hear.  This isn’t as simple as it may sound. It requires you to choose your words carefully.  By responding thoughtfully, the other person will feel less defensive.

I once worked in an office that adopted a “but-out” practice.  

We even had a “but cup” in the break room, we all agreed to feed with cash when caught using the word.  It was all in good fun, and we had a “but party" at the end of the month to celebrate our collective efforts.  The cup filled quickly the first week. Eventually, the we adapted to a positive, but-free workplace. I have recommended this to organizations that hire me to help improve the way they engage in conflict. Each one has reported positive results. Really!

Replacing “but” with “and” will transform the conversation.

One word can change everything. It is less judgemental.  It keeps the conversation positive. It shows that you are open to listening. It communicates respect, even if you disagree. It sends the message, “I want to learn more.” 

For example:

Instead of this: “You are a good writer, but it's not necessary to use such flowery vocabulary.”

Try this: “You are a good writer and I would like to learn about your writing process.”

No buts about it, the second message is more engaging. It will not put the other person on the defensive.  You should get better results in difficult conversations when you drop the word "but." 

Replacing "but" with "and" also makes you a better listener.  Download a copy of my free checklist and keep it handy to keep improving your listening skills.  

It takes a few practice runs to get the hang of it, and I am confident you will be glad you did!