No “Buts”

We have all experienced a conversation where a compliment is followed by a “but.” The small three-letter word “but” can make you forget everything that was said before, shake your confidence and cause self-doubt. For example, you might hear, “I can see your point but…” or “No disrespect but…”.  

In a Dale Carnegie course on Skills for Success years ago, the facilitator gave us a sticky note that read “no buts.” The facilitator instructed us to put that note on the computer monitor, a visual reminder that using the “but” destroys relationships. Communication is the most powerful tool you have. A successful communicator seeks to achieve a shared understanding.

As leaders, we need to remove the word “but” from our vocabulary. For example, you might have used the following phrase on an employee, “you are doing a great job, but….” If you reorder the sentence like: “it doesn’t work so well when you do X, but I have confidence that once we discuss it, you will be able to handle the situation.” Using the word “but” with a positive ending provides hope for the person you are addressing. Pay attention to the words you use. The most influential leaders are great listeners. They are slow to react and choose their words carefully. 

In every state I have been to, when people learn I am Canadian, they often say, “you don’t sound Canadian.” The stereotype is that I don’t sound Canadian because I don’t use the Canadian filler word “Eh .” When I was thirteen, someone pointed out to me how often Canadians used the filler word “eh’ in our conversations, and I decided to remove it from my vocabulary. It took a year, much practice, and failing before I successful stopped using the word “eh.” If you choose to remove the word “but” be patient and kind to yourself.

Focus on what is said before “but.”

Typically, in giving feedback or opinions, we start with the positive, and after “but” becomes negative. For example, “I like your solution, but it is too expensive.” 

Replace “but” with curiosity. 

Most of the time, after we hear the word “but,” we shut down. However, asking follow-up questions like “What do you like about the solution?” shifts the frame of mind from the price to the benefits, prioritizing the positive reshuffles and the conversation.

Stop before the “but.”

Find common ground via shared values. For example, a discussion about a topic that two people are passionate about; however, their approaches to the solution differ. Stating, “It sounds like we both care a lot about this,” puts you on the same side, keeping the defense down.

Every interaction is an opportunity to create value. Therefore, every communication should be an act toward educating, persuading, informing, inspiring, or motivating some to move in the desired direction. 

August 22, 2022 By Cheryl Viola, Executive Director/CEO, MBA