Updated: Apr 2
The three letter word wreaking havoc wherever it's used.
‘You’ve done really great work but…’
‘We want to give you that raise but…’
‘It’s a fantastic idea but…’
The word ‘but’ is used liberally around the workplace, often as a get-out-of-jail-free card, allowing people to say something positive that they think the listener wants to hear before whacking them with ‘reality’. The core issue with using the word ‘but’ is that the receiver won’t remember anything you said that comes before it.
Perhaps you need to give constructive feedback, or deliver disappointing news and you want to soften the blow. You begin with the positive, but when you throw in this tiny modifier your opening will be lost. We are primed for a threat response, our brain is already waiting for you to throw in the ‘but’.
And don’t think you can mask your ‘but’ in fancy language. ‘However...’ is the same thing, as is “Having said that…”
We often have good intentions when throwing our ‘buts’ around. Perhaps we want to acknowledge good work, or validate both sides of a conflicting argument. If that is the case, it’s important that we treat what comes before and after the ‘but’ as two discrete ideas. Take the time to completely acknowledge good work, before making a request for improvement, or delivering constructive feedback rather than ‘sandwiching’ them together. Use an ‘and’ instead of your ‘but’ and see if that doesn’t give both of your statements more credence.
If your ‘but’ is included to soften the blow before saying what you really want to say, then consider whether anything that comes before the ‘but’ needs to be said. Using direct and concise communication shows respect for the other person, and ensures you don’t undermine yourself by placing unequal emphasis on the topics you want to cover in the conversation.