So here’s your very simple but difficult management advice for today: stop using the word but! Whether you’re parenting or working or hanging out with friends, the word but needs to go.
I was first clued into this concept when reading a parenting book called How to Talk so Kids will Listen which is excellent and you should read even if you’re not a parent. The authors explained that anytime you use the word “but” you end up negating everything you’ve just said. Let’s do a quick example:
I say “Hey Canon, you did a great job with clean up time but you forgot to pick up the toys in the family room.” What does that sound like to you? Did he really do a great job? It sounds like I’m trying to let him down easy, that actually no, he didn’t do a good job cleaning because he forgot a key part of the process. What does he hear? That I don’t mean what I said and I’m really just criticizing him.
How could I say it better? “Hey Canon, you did a great job cleaning up in the playroom. Can you also grab the toys in the playroom?”
It applies equally well in the workplace context. I was reminded of this principle reading Fierce Conversations this week. Susan Scott writes, “Multiple, competing realities exist simultaneously: This is true and this is true and this is true.” When we say “yes, but” we don’t acknowledge the competing realities, we just try to keep persuading other people that our own version is correct.
What to say instead
The word “but” negates other views and can come across as blaming. Scott recommends trying to replace every “but” with an “and” so that both realities are acknowledged as valid pieces of the whole picture. Instead of “You see it that way, but I see it differently” try, “You see it that way, and I see is differently.” A really simple switch that has the potential to keep discussions civil and people feeling like they are heard while still also allowing for differences of opinion. Win Win. Other options include:
- “The problem I see is”
- “At the same time”
Watch out though, as these can also come across as condescending based on your tone. And is probably the safest bet. You can also just stop your sentence and replace that “but” with a period. Start the next sentence as a question instead. Because asking questions is always a good principle for parents and managers anyway. That was bonus management advice right there.