Personal Development: Often,
substantial strides in our personal development can come
from changing minor aspects of our behaviour. This is the
first in a series of short tips on those “little things
that can mean a lot” to our personal effectiveness.
When it comes to oral communication,
we can choose from a wealth of small changes that make
a big difference. Since this is the first of these short
articles we’ll start with a tiny change in habit
that will make a huge difference. In fact it’s our
use of one little word. And what is that word? Well, read
the following sentence and you tell me.
a good article, but it’s kind of long.”
it isn’t obvious to you, then the answer is the word “but”.
This word does an inordinate amount of damage, and the
sad thing is that few people realize how much negative
impact it has on our relationship building. Here’s
a more common example:
Years ago, it was an accepted principle
of feedback that before you give negative feedback, lead
in with something positive. So a common pattern of feedback
became, “Susan, you do a pretty good job here, but
do you realize how obnoxious you can be?” Managers
truly believed that the positive lead-in would mitigate
the negative impact of the second part of the message.
Since few managers made a habit of delivering genuine praise,
they developed a pattern soon recognized by employees.
If your manager delivers praise, watch out, because it
is simply a prelude to a nasty zinger. You could actually
see employees flinch when they received the positive feedback
because they knew what came next.
Many more managers today
know that negative or re-directional feedback should be
presented directly without a link to positive. However,
the misuse of the word “but” is still a habit
displayed to some extent by most of us.
I’m not advocating
that you completely remove the word but from your vocabulary.
But in certain situations, realize that the word will destroy
any positive impact you may be intending in discussions
with others. There are three specific situations you should
watch out for.
The first we’ve already mentioned,
and it’s praise. If you genuinely want to praise
someone then do so, but don’t ad a sting in the tail
with a “but”. If Joe has written a good report
tell him, and resist the temptation of adding, “but
next time can you make it a little briefer”. If necessary
you can address that issue later. But for now reap the
benefits of genuine praise.
The second situation is when
you debating an issue and you concede a point. If done
well, conceding a point will benefit you by showing the
other person that you’re flexible and receptive to
their ideas. But once again, follow the concession with
a “but’ and any possible benefit is lost. Put
yourself in the other person’s shoes. How do you
feel when someone says “Okay you’ve got a point
but….”? So the point again is simple. If you
want to show openness and flexibility, concede the point,
but leave it at that.
Finally, if someone has a suggestion
that you disagree with, don’t agree with it and follow
agreement with a “but”. If you disagree and
don’t want to appear abrupt or inflexible, simply
discuss the idea and ask questions that should reveal any
Now the difficult part! There is no doubt that making
this one small change will make a big difference. But (this
but’s okay), once you start to become conscious of
how often you misuse the term, and how it flows from the
tongue so naturally, you’ll realize that changing
the one small habit can be a challenge. After many years
of writing and talking about it, I still find myself slipping
into the old “but” pattern. But on a brighter
note, I use it probably 90% less than I used to, and as
long as we are improving then that’s good. So make
a start. Become aware of its misuse and work on eliminating
it. You’ll soon notice a difference in the overall
effectiveness of your communication and your relationships.
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