Use of the word “but” is extremely overused in our vernacular and has become synonymous with being demeaning. “But” is used to introduce a phrase contrasting what has already been said, or used as an expression of apology for what is about to be said. That often is not our intention, thus we need to find ways to eliminate “but” from our vocabulary and be more precise in our language.
We’ve all been in conversations where we knew the “but” was coming. Praise heaped upon us, and when the word “but” is uttered it completely disavows everything that was said prior. “The work you did on the project delivering it on time and on budget was excellent, but some of the details were lacking.” Both phrases in that sentence may be genuine and true. In fact the first phrase may be significantly more weighted with the speaker intending to provide positive feedback, and the second phrase merely a lesson learned. In our modern vernacular however, everything before the “but” is likely diminished if not completely forgotten. “I think you are a terrific person whose work ethic I admire, “but” you can be extremely frustrating.” Again both phrases may be genuine and true. In fact the first phrase may be significantly more weighted, however the speaker chose instead to use it to blunt the impact of the second phrase.
Often we can reconfigure the wording to be more precise in our language, and enhance the meaning of our message. Consider separating the phrases and time bounding them to be more precise. “The work you did on the project delivering it on time and on budget was excellent. Moving forward, the lesson learned is the focus on the details that were lacking.” In this example separating the phrases into separate sentences and time bounding them provides positive feedback for what has transpired, and then sets the expectation going forward. “I think you are a terrific person whose work ethic I admire. In this instance, I am extremely frustrated with you” In this example separating the phrases establishes the overarching positive feeling toward the person, and time bounds the second phrase of frustration into only this current situation.
Effective communication requires proper planning, practice and execution. Words matter, and we need to choose them carefully and deliberately. Eliminating “but” from our vocabulary and being more precise in our language helps deliver the accurate and appropriate message.