"Buts" Drop Bombs: The Art of Tactful Conversation

How a subtle word choice can have a profound impact on conversation.

Posted Feb 21, 2019

I was recently working with a client on effective workplace communication and the profound linguistic choice of using "and" instead of "but". 

"And" pulls people into a conversation. It includes them and validates their ideas. On the other hand, "Buts" drop bombs. (If you'll forgive the crass pun). "But" tends to exclude people's ideas, can make us sound argumentative or whiny, and can make people feel ashamed or embarrassed for sharing their input. We don't intend for our "buts" to get in the way, we're simply unaware of them.

Take this conversation with a boss for example:

"My promotion has been exciting, BUT it has exposed me to solving so many different problems that I need help prioritizing my goals for the remainder of the year."

See how a bomb was dropped? Now the employee's problems have become the boss's problem. Sure, it's the boss's job to help her/his employee manage the workload effectively, but could this have been approached differently so that the boss didn't feel dumped upon out of the blue? 

Compare to this version:

"My promotion has been exciting AND it has exposed me to solving many different problems. I'd like to hear your ideas for prioritizing my goals for the remainder of the year."

With this simple change, the boss was pulled into a collaborative effort. The overwhelmed employee can still outline all of the troublesome issues, but it feels like a team effort with the boss being tapped for her/his wisdom.

Another example:

"I hear what you're saying about our sales goals, BUT I think we should be focusing on strengthening the team's culture."

vs.

"I hear what you're saying about our sales goals AND I think we should add to that a focus on strengthening the team's culture."

Both people's ideas were validated so the conversation maintains a respectful and balanced dynamic. One of the employees won't go away from this meeting saying, "Why do I bother proposing new ideas? She never listens to them and only has her own agenda in mind."

Make the switch at home too:

"I know you've always loaded the dishwasher that way, but my way cleans them better. With my way, the peanut butter doesn't stick to the knives."

(I'll tell you where you can put those knives!)

vs.

"I know you've always loaded the dishwasher that way and if you also arrange the silverware this way I've noticed the peanut butter doesn't stick to the knives."

(What a relief. I'll try that next time!)

Remember, "Buts Drop Bombs."

LinkedIn Image Credit: ESB Basic/Shutterstock