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The Word “But”

Estimated Lesson Time: 3 minutes

Perhaps one of the most famous disciplinarians in history was Mike Brady, from the ’70s sitcom “The Brady Bunch.” In just about every episode, he would lecture one or more of his kids, with his lovely hair-of-gold wife by his side. Mike may be one of the most famous disciplinarians, but his use of the contradicting “but” and “however” sure left a lot to be desired.

The word “but” has many valuable uses in both formal and informal English. Unfortunately, however, many use this word when they are criticizing or giving feedback. Most people are so used to it; they can “feel” a “but” coming. It is usually detected by somber, stern or reluctant praise or good news. The “but” that follows, then takes the attention off of the positive and puts the focus on the negative, in most cases, turning the overall tone of the message, or the message deliverer, negative.

The words “but,” “however,” or any other contradictory word or phrase used in criticism or while giving feedback, does one or more of the following:

  • Causes resentment in those to whom the message is directed
  • Causes defensiveness
  • Fails to offer encouragement
  • Fails to offer motivation
  • Gives the impression that there are “strings attached”
  • Detracts from the positive tone of the message

So how does one give feedback while avoiding contradictory terms or phrases? Substitute the word “and” to replace the “stick” with the “carrot” while rephrasing the statement to be more positive. It also helps to end with a positive and encouraging comment.

Here are several examples of this principle:

No: Jan, we know you love your sister, but it is not right to be jealous of her.

Yes: Jan, we know you love your sister, and being supportive of her rather than jealous of her, will show her and the rest of the world what a great person your mom and I know you are.

No: Greg, your mom and I appreciate what you did for your sister, but it is not right to lie.

Yes: Greg, your mom and I appreciate what you did for your sister. Next time, use that groovy head of yours and find a better way to help others without lying.

No: Cindy, we appreciate you sharing things with us; however, tattling is just not right.

Yes: Cindy, we appreciate you sharing things with us, especially when it is information others don’t mind you sharing and did not ask you to keep a secret.

No: Alice, we really do like your cooking, but do you think we can have anything but red meat at least once per month?

Yes: Alice, you certainly are a master at preparing red meat. We would love to see what you can do with some chicken and pork dishes.

In just about every situation, you can get the same message across in a positive way, rather than leaving the person with an overall negative feeling that he or she has just been criticized by avoiding using the word “but” and by keeping the overall tone positive. Giving feedback in this way may not seem as natural and will take some practice and thought; however, it will soon become second nature.


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    From the Course:
    Personal Development
    Year To Success
    Bo Bennett, PhD

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    Personal Development : Personal Transformation
    Offered by VirversitY
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