Almost exactly two years ago I wrote this article on LinkedIn on why we shouldn’t use the word “but” in feedback situation. I’ve later come to realize that we use this small word WAY to much, and this lead me down a path where I’ve tried to remove it from my vocabulary, or at least minimize it to the extreme. After all sometimes “but” is a useful word.
I agree with you, but…
The main issue I have with the word “but” is that I believe we use it too much and I believe we use it wrong. You know in a meeting when someone says “I agree with you, but…” and then lists five reason that they doesn’t agree with you? Well in that case the “I agree with you” part is just a simple lie.
Sometimes they actually do agree, still says but and instead says things they’d like to add on to the statement they agree with. Such as things we need to keep in mind when we move forward, and in that case what they really should say is “I agree with you, AND…” insert this and this and this.
And then sometimes people will say “I agree with you, but…” and then start talking about something completely different. Do you agree with someone? Good, let them know, take a pause, and start a completely new sentence with your next topic. Saying but in this case removes your point of letting people know you agree with them.
Why has it become a problem
The first step of trying to remove something you do is to realize when and how often you do it. I quickly realized I used “but” A LOT. In the beginning I also think people could sense when I was about to say it because I had to stop and think about what I could say instead of but. I am still in a sense of mind where I am extremely aware of when I am about to say “but”, and (see what I did there?) now I am a lot quicker at exchanging the word with something else, or pause and start a new sentence.
The problem is that now that I’ve come past the point of noticing it in myself I am realizing how much this little word is used around me. And it is a lot! Coworkers, with friends and family, in stuff I read. I tried to let my wife know when she used it in a way I think is wrong for the purpose of the word, and lets just say hat was when I realized this has become a problem, because I don’t want to become the guy that goes around and corrects everyones use of a simple word. I have never enjoyed hanging around people that is so quick to correct other peoples grammar that I refuse to become that person myself when it comes to the word but.
So then what…
I would highly advice you to try and think of how often you say the word “but”. Pick a meeting and think about how often you use it, or the other people in the meeting uses it. You might get surprised about it. And think about what you are actually trying to get across. Do you really mean to use but? Are you trying to add something to the discussion? Use and! Are you actually going to start talking about something else? Pause and start a new sentence. It will make it easier for everyone to understand the point you are actually trying to get across, and not get confused by you saying an extremely long sentence divided by the very small, and very much used word, “but”.
Me? I am going to slowly advice people around me to remove the word themselves. I will point it out here and there, BUT I am going to be extremely cautious of how often I say it to the same person!