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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Kicking "But" (And More)

Recently, someone I was coaching concluded she needed to begin using more powerful language. I suggested she start by reducing some of the qualifying words and equivocal statements I'd frequently heard used in our previous coaching conversations. I pointed out how often she used 'but' in her sentences and asked her to try replacing a sentence like "I have an idea but I'm not sure how it will fly" with something like "I have an idea I want to implement immediately." Which words or phrases do you use that weaken your message?

Any of these sound familiar? "I'd like to ...?" How about the word "only" as in "I'm 'only' thinking out loud?"  Or ... "Do you know what I mean?", especially if the question has a plaintive ending. When you pay close attention to how people speak, it's notable how many of us sabotage our own message, i.e. our "buts" get in our way. Over time, especially in the workplace, the cumulative effect of using language that is not powerful can lead others to minimize our input or worse, ignore us. Meanwhile, those who speak without as much qualifying language are perceived as confident. And much of this happens largely on a unconscious level. Each of us begin acting toward others - powerful or powerless - based on how we've internalized the words they use and the way they use them.

What's been your experience with this? Does a but ever get in your way? Which word or phrase can you begin using less frequently to help make your language more powerful?


  1. I'm sure you weren't intending this post to be humorous but I laughed my head off as Pee-Wee's Big Adventure came to mind. In the movie, the waitress Simone tells Pee-Wee of her secret desire to visit Paris on her own, but she will have to leave her domineering boyfriend Andy. Pee-Wee coaches her to be confident and to follow her dreams because "Everybody has a big but."

  2. The power of "and" is huge for me. I may have looked at your coaching conversation for someone who is not yet fully ready to embrace "no buts" as "I have an idea AND I am not sure how it is going to fly." This way, there is an acknowledgement that two feelings, which we sometimes think are conflicting (excitement/motivation and uncertainty) are, in actuality, simply co-existing. We can be happy and be frightened, we can be sad about something and hopeful about the future....the power of "and" recognizes we can feel two things simultaneously and that's okay.

  3. Anonymous; Great observation. I have often coached others about the power of "and" as well. This particular person needs more work on equivocation than on recognizing the co-existence of two feelings, which you astutely point out is what substituting "and" for "but" acknowledges. Thanks for your comment.