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Don’t Be a But-Head!!

Catchy title, right? I was pretty stoked when it hit me on my walk this morning. So stoked, in fact, I had to share it with my kids over breakfast.

“Hey guess what, kiddos. I just thought of the best title for my next blog post.”

“Oh yeah? What?” (both in unison)

“Yep. It’s going to be titled: “Don’t be a but-head.  They stopped eating and looked directly at me. Aila frowned while Aidan chuckled awkwardly, “Uh, haha. Ok.”

I smile, pause a long pause, and they stare at me like I’ve lost my mind.

“Aidan, check this out. I’m going to give you two statements. You tell me which one feels better…

‘Aidan, I’m so so proud of you for working so hard on your last book report for the year!! I really appreciate how much you focused on it!  But, next time, how about we spend some time together after you’re done with it so we can correct the spelling mistakes.’

OR,

‘Aidan I’m so so proud of you for working so hard on your last book report for the year!! I really appreciate how much you focused on it!  And… how ‘bout next time, we spend some time together after you’re done with it so we can correct the few spelling mistakes together.’”

A big smile spread across his face. “Oh yeah. Wow. That second one made me feel so much better. Yeah, that’s awesome.”

It was really interesting. As I spoke the first statement Aidan’s shoulders tensed up slightly as I launched the, “But… how ‘bout next time we…”

And, they stayed tense until I said the second example. As he heard, “And… how ‘bout next time…” it was as if his body breathed a sigh of relief and he connected with me with a smile.


Now friends, there’s no “buts” about it!

“But” is the ultimate eraser. Sure there may be a time and place to insert your very justified BUT.

However, if you want to build rapport, trust and keep people open, generative, creative and communicative, try replacing all your buts with AND, or just a bit of silence before you transition to the next thought.  It’s wild how this simple shift can improve the dynamic in any relationship.Think about it, the moment we say but, we put people on the defense and invalidate what they just contributed or what we just positively acknowledged.  Using “and” or a bit of silence before you add your point of view reinforces a belief that their contributions are valid and valued.

Notice how these pivots feel. Mindfully removing “but” primes you for a more inclusive response:

“I like that idea, but I doubt it’s going to work.”

OR

“I like that idea, how might that work?”

“I appreciate how much you’ve contributed to this project, but we’ve decided to go another direction.”

OR

“I appreciate how much you’ve contributed to this project, thank you. (insert a few second pause) We’ve decided to go another direction.”

“Honey, I’ll always love you unconditionally, but I hate that you can be so mean to your sister.”

OR

“Honey, I’ll always love you unconditionally. And because I do, I’m here to help you grow. Your words and your actions have an impact on your sister, can you please put yourself in her shoes and ask yourself what it would feel like to be talked to that way?”

“I get that this situation has been really hard for you, but if you just read that book I gave you, you’d probably feel a lot better.”

OR

“I get that this situation has been really hard for you. (a few second pause) Have you found any relief in that book I gave you?”

These messages (and countless others not exemplified here) with “but” are clear: “I value, acknowledge, validate your existence, experience and/or contribution BUT what I have to say overrides what you’ve got going on and I want you to know it. And, if you just saw it my way, we’d all be in a better place.”

Ok, that may be a bit dramatic, but the essence underneath those words is what’s going on with a BUT. (I intentionally just did it here if you caught that 😉

Stop and think about why we might feel compelled to use “but.” We like to be right. Neuroscience tells us we can even become addicted to being right (Gotta love that dopamine hit). Our desire to be right can oftentimes interfere with our virtuous aspirations of innovating, connecting, and inspiring others. The only genuine way to keep people creative and inspired is to keep them from shutting down and feeling the need to protect their point of view. The easiest way to do that is to monitor and judiciously use that sticky word BUT.

So don’t be a but-head. 🙂


If you’re interested in trying this out, you can start by intending to heighten your awareness of how you use and respond to this word. Notice how you feel when others put their “but” all over you. Notice how often you feel compelled to say or type it out. Try to switch it out for and or silence before you move to your point. If you’re like me, you’ll catch it right after you say it and want to suck back in and think, “Delete! Delete!”

It sometimes sounds something like this: “Thanks so much for cleaning your room Aidan, but next… NO! NOT BUT!…. AND… (insert big smile here) next time how about we try getting it done after the first time we ask, not the 13th.”

Judith E. Glaser, Founder of Conversational Intelligence wisely said, “Words create worlds.” I couldn’t agree more. It’s a wonder to observe just how much we’re able to keep people open and or how quickly we can shut them down with simple shifts in our word choice. What kind of world are you creating for yourself and others with the words you choose?

If you like this blog post BUT feel compelled to argue any of it’s points, I gladly welcome your feedback.

If you like this blog post AND are thinking of a friend that could use it, pass it on!

If you like this blog post…. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Reach out by submitting your comments below! Nothing delights me more than continuing the conversation about stuff like this.

No ifs, ands or buts about it,

Amy


Amy Eliza Wong is an executive/life coach, speaker and writer in the California San Francisco Bay Area committed to helping people and organizations live and lead on purpose. Learn more about working with her.

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