Aha! Admit it, that title caught your attention. I probably should apologize in advance if you thought I was talking about anatomy. I’m actually going to talk about the word, not the body part.
So, if you’re game to read more, I’d like you to think about these statements:
1. I’m sorry I raised my voice, but . . .
2. I’m not a racist, but . . .
3. Not to be mean, but . . .
4. I’m not being judgmental, but . . .
What happens to you when you hear something that sounds like these examples? If you answered that the word “but” negates the entire phrase before the “but,” you’re 100% correct! Actually, the “but” can totally reverse the meaning of the phrase it modifies. Once you start listening for it, you will be amazed at how many times people use the “b-word” in this context.
So, I’d like to start this conversation by unilaterally stating that if you begin a statement with any of the four examples above, JUST STOP. Delete those phrases from your vocabulary immediately because nobody will hear what comes after the “but.” I don’t even have an alternative to suggest. If you’re willing to eliminate phrases such as those above, please read on. If you’re not, have a nice day.
Okay, now that I’ve weeded out the negativity, let’s create a couple of examples so that I can help you become aware of the word in your own lexicon, and then figure out a more appropriate substitute.
Scenario #1 – Workplace Conversation: You’re in charge and you have to evaluate a less-than-stellar performance of an employee. Choose A or B:
A. I know you’re trying your best to meet these important deadlines, but your delays have caused issues with the rest of the staff.
B. In spite of your best efforts, when you fail to meet a deadline, the rest of the staff is affected.
Scenario #2 – Parent to Child Conversation: Your kid isn’t turning in her homework. Choose A or B:
A. I saw you read the book, but you’re in trouble with your teacher for not turning in the book report.
B. I believe you completed the book report, and I just found out from your teacher that you didn’t turn it in. Will you explain why this happened?
Obviously, you’ve chosen “B” in both examples, because if you went with option A, you would have run the risk of putting the other person on the defensive instead of arriving at a solution.
In order to change our habit, we need to rethink the sentence before we blurt it out. Try rewording it silently to eliminate the “but.” One suggestion is to simply start your sentence with what you otherwise might have said after the “but.” Maybe, if it makes sense, try using “and” instead. You can still make your point without creating an invitation to defend.
I know it’s complicated, but do you think this makes sense? (Sometimes I amuse myself …)
This is a great article. I received a letter of apology from someone close to me. At the time of reading it, I noticed all the but’s that were inserted in the letter. Against my better judgment, I opened myself up to that person to later find out that a zebra does not change its stripes. Thanks for the reminder to listen to ourselves before we speak.
Thanks for this article. I do so often fall into that habit of BUT. This is a good reminder to work on it!
Good advice! Reminds me of the “yes, but…….” conundrum!
Nicely done, Nancy, in that you point out “but” is usually a negating word. I like that you give examples of how one can avoid “but.”
A phrase that also bugs me is “With all due respect…”
Really great article with good suggestions! I will try to be more aware with my speech, and put this into practice.
I think it is how the word is used like most words. An example that happened today to me. I am extremely claustrophobic and went for an MRI today but I could not complete it because of my phobia.
I think how you say something is as important as what you say. No one hears most of a statement that starts off in anger.