How many times have you received positive feedback, or a compliment from someone, only to have them follow their comments by the word BUT? Do you find that YOUR use of the word “BUT” can turn what you thought was a simple message into a heated conflict situation?
No buts about it; our words aren’t getting through. And why not? The word “but” feels negative for most people and seems to be the pre-cursor to criticism and judgment.
Example: "Joe, I've really been pleased with the accuracy and attention to detail that you've been giving the ABC project, BUT I'm concerned that you might not meet the deadline."
"BUT" could easily say to Joe that his hard work isn't good enough, that you think the deadline is more important than accuracy and attention to detail, when that may not be the case at all.
It's no wonder. Look at some definitions of the word BUT: on the contrary, with the exception of, contrary to expectation, however. Imagine the same comment made this way:
"Joe, I've really been pleased with the accuracy and attention to detail that you've been giving the ABC project. CONTRARY TO EXPECTATION, I'm concerned that you might not meet the deadline." (Ouch!)
Here’s something to try: Whenever you can, substitute the word "BUT" with the word "AND."
Look at some definitions of the word AND: in addition, also, plus. Again, the Joe example:
"Joe, I've really been pleased with the accuracy and attention to detail that you've been giving the ABC project. AND [in addition], I'm concerned that you might not meet the deadline."
AND does not take away from anything Joe did, or your opinion of Joes’ good work. It simply communicates that there is something else to discuss. It can open the door for finding solutions, rather than simply criticizing.
It's a simple concept, and yet, like most new behaviors, it will take some practice before it becomes natural and automatic for you. In some cases, the AND substitution doesn't quite work (like right here :-), but for the most part, it does. I think you will be amazed when you start to pay attention to your choice of words, just how often you use the word BUT in daily conversation.
The key is sincerity. If you are merely blowing smoke, or trying to “ease the blow” by starting with a false compliment, it won’t matter what words you use. If you are not pleased with Joe’s accuracy and attention to detail, then don’t say that you are.
Here’s another example. (Note: You’ll notice that I actually begin a new sentence with the word “and” which my high school English teacher, Sister Virginia Maria, would frown upon. She also wouldn’t like that I just ended the last sentence with a preposition. But I digress.) Beginning the new sentence with AND provides more emphasis.
Example: You are having a conversation with a co-worker about your boss. You make a comment about your weekly meetings not being very efficient. Your co-worker says, “So you agree with me that Bill isn’t a good manager.” Your response is “No, that’s not what I am saying. Actually, I think that Bill is a good manager. AND I think he could run our meetings more efficiently.” Using AND stresses that you have two separate opinions about Bill, whereas using “but” tends to discount or de-value the first part of your statement.
At first glance, it may seem to be a simple matter of semantics. However, I believe that people will actually “hear” you better when you make that small change. Try speaking the examples out loud. Really stress the words BUT and AND, adding a slight pause before and after them.
Give it a whirl. I think you'll discover that "AND" can make a world of difference in helping your messages get through.
Try it in your personal relationships, too. (Honey, I really appreciate how much time you've spent setting up the new surround sound in the family room. AND, I could really use your help right now getting the kids ready for bed.)
Until next time, I leave you with the words of the great George Bernard Shaw:
The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it's being accomplished.
Trainer, Facilitator, & Spare Tire