Stop Causing Defensiveness in Others: Change One Word

Sometimes the best learning comes from eavesdropping! Don’t you think? Here’s what I learned while having a chai tea latte at one of my favourite haunts . . . Two men in their 30’s, sat down at the table next to me. One man started speaking about a young lady whom they both seemed to know – oh it’s probably important for you to know the context . . . it was about some kind of software business. The one guy begins by saying, “Michelle (not her real name), is really great. She’s organized, responsible, works well with others . . “ and he continued for a little bit. I knew what was coming so I waited for it.

And it came!

“. . . but she doesn’t know how to do some things. She has big gaps in her knowledge.”

That one word, ‘BUT’ changed the entire direction of the conversation.

Why? Because it effectively erased everything that preceded it. Yes, wiped those adjectives right off the planet! Vamoosh!! That’s what the word ‘but’ does.

It negates what comes before it.

Read these sentences out loud to see for yourself:

  • “You are a good worker but you arrive late and leave early.”
  • “The patients are getting discharge planning but they need follow up.”
  • “I love you but . . . (I don’t dare finish that sentence!)”

The word ‘but’ puts the listener on the defense, doesn’t it?

That’s not a great place for anyone. The conversation then has the listener defending their point or their work (whatever you are attacking), rather than being able to hear what your point is. Does that make sense? If you want to have better work relationships, better home relationships and generally have people want to engage with you (I think I covered everyone in that statement), replace your use of ‘but’ with . . . ‘and.’

When you replace ‘but’ with ‘and,’ both phrases are true.

If the man had said, “Michelle is organized, responsible, works well with others and she doesn’t know how to do some things,” it doesn’t take away from Michelle’s attributes. What he’s saying is, both things are true of Michelle. Notice the difference . . .

  • “You are a good worker and you arrive late and leave early.”
  • “The patients are getting discharge planning and they need follow up.”
  • “I love you and I’m going out with my friends!”

Significant isn’t it? The word ‘and’ doesn’t put you on the defense, does it? It allows you to take in the positive information (instead of erasing it) and then focus on the second part of the statement.

Here’s a challenge for you:

Over the next 24 hours, pay close attention to your conversations. Attempt to catch yourself each time you are about to say ‘but’ and instead replace it with ‘and.’ You might struggle and only realize later that you used the word ‘but.’ That’s ok, that’s how learning occurs. Also I invite you to pay attention when others use the word ‘but’ and the impact it has.

To Your Success





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Seriously? Me, too! covers 10 Power Strategies that seriously work. It takes everyday situations that you can relate to, sprinkles in a bit of humour (you can’t be serious all the time) and demonstrates how you can achieve personal success — one simple step at a time. Learn More »


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