Losing Your “BUT” Is Harder When Communicating Than It is Trying to Lose Weight

“You’re contradicting yourself when you say we have to be direct and candid, but we can’t use the word “but” to make our point in response.”

This claim came from an audience member in a recent deep dive session at a client’s company event last week.

I get it.

When we’ve developed a habit of communicating a particular way, doing something different feels, well, uncomfortable.

“It’s too soft,” I’m often told, or…

“I don’t want to have to dance around an issue to figure out how not to say “BUT” so the other person doesn’t get their feelings hurt.”

I always respond

“I agree. You shouldn’t be couching your communication to prevent someone from getting his or her feelings hurt.”

As the other person responds back confused, I ask,

“Isn’t want you want is a way to respond so the other person continues to be open to hearing what you have to say so that it leads to a positive, productive conversation that maintains or builds a trusting relationship?”

To that everyone says, “yes, absolutely.”NO_BUT

Then I tell them, “Then, one of the best ways to do that is to lose your “BUTs,” (and your “Howevers, and althoughs.”).

I know it’s hard at first.

Champion communicators do this extremely well.

It takes practice, just like every other skill you’ve ever developed.

It takes a more conscious approach to your interpersonal communication.

And, it is absolutely worth it.

Using “BUT” or one of its related phrases, negates everything that comes before it.

It sends a disingenuous message and quite frankly makes the person delivering it look uncaring.

It causes the other person:

  • to stop listening
  • to feel unheard
  • to feel disrespected
  • to not believe the other person’s initial positive statement
  • to not want to continue the conversation

It was interesting to hear people in the audience agree that when they were on the receiving end of the “BUT” phrase, it led to those internal feelings.

Yet, those same people when pushed to communicate without using the “but,” felt it was not effective to make their point.

Leave a comment below and in the next article I’ll share typical phrases that often come with a “but” transition and how to transition differently that is not soft or too convoluted. It will be direct, candid and to the point.

’til next time, Communicate with Power,

skip-weisman-professional speaker-small business championship coach




8 thoughts on “Losing Your “BUT” Is Harder When Communicating Than It is Trying to Lose Weight

  1. Marlene says:

    Excellent topic. Here is one example of eliminating the ‘but.’

    I want to share an idea with a colleague but that person usually rejects new ways of doing things.

    I need to devise a way to express an idea that will bring a positive result.

    I am hungry but need to finish this project.
    I will get something to eat as soon as I finish the project.

  2. Paul David Ladouceur says:

    Great article. I ran into a supervisor that used BUT with almost every answer to discussion he was involved in. I quickly observed the negative results he was receiving from the employees. I have conditioned myself to not use the BUT in talking, messaging on line or in written communications. I would rather use words such as……..however, perhaps, another option maybe. There are a multitude of options than BUT.

  3. heinrich willeke says:

    Great article!
    Need to observe myself for that usage of “but” – I agree it can be a killer of communication or action for other persons to be confronted always with a stopper.

  4. Stacy Meyer says:

    I started removing the word “but’ from my vocabulary several years ago and can attest that it does make a big difference. I am not sure what you mean by this question, “Isn’t want you want is a way to respond so the other person continues to be open to hearing what you have to say so that it leads to a positive, productive conversation that maintains or builds a trusting relationship?”. I agree that speaking without using the word “but” keeps an open dialogue with the person I am speaking to and that it takes time to train yourself not to use it. Thank you for sharing this perspective.

  5. Skip Weisman says:

    Thanks for your suggestions and they do provide an alternative way to phrase the concept without using but. You may also notice that you didn’t approach the phrasing in quite the same way, you just created a new, proactive phrase without keeping the conversation in the context of the construct of how its presented.

    If the exercise is to communicate to empathize or agree with another person based on their approach to the conversation it would be more like this:

    “I want to share an idea with a colleague and because it has been my experience they tend to reject new ways of doing things I need to devise a way to express…”
    “I am hungry and need to finish this project so I’m going to get something to eat as soon as I finish.”

    Does that make sense? You have to maintain the structure of the exercise otherwise you lose the entire concept because you have to address the issue instead of circumventing it.

  6. Skip Weisman says:

    Thanks for your comment. I appreciate your contributions here when you read something that inspires you to participate. I’m pleased you learned how “not” to communicate in this manner and have changed your style. Note that some other options are just substitutes and contrived euphemisms for “but.” Those include “however,” “although,” “now having said all of that.” So, be careful as “however,” sends the same message as “BUT!”

  7. Skip Weisman says:

    THanks for being inspired to comment. I’m pleased you found value in the article. Note that this is a very hard habit to break and takes a lot of conscious thought because as you will see in the next article, you have to change the phrasing that comes after the “and” you will need to use as the new transition word. Stay tuned!

  8. Skip Weisman says:

    Stacy, Thanks for being inspired to leave a comment. I’m pleased you’ve been able to build a new habit of communicating regarding “but,” “however,” and “although” type rebuttals.

    What I meant by that question is when I’m confronted by people who believe it is too “convoluted” and too “non-direct” to use more empathetic transition word in the rebuttal, I ask that question. If that is the outcome they desire to have while in conversation with another then using “BUT” type transition words will not achieve their outcome as the other person shuts down, stops listening and/or will get emotional in their response because they don’t feel “heard.” When they agree that’s the outcome they desire, they need to understand their present “comfortable” way of communicating will not deliver it for them.

    Does that help explain what I meant by that question?

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