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Years ago I came across a simple principle that – after making a habit in my own life – made a profound difference in my day-to-day communication. It enabled me to give more direct and constructive feedback, allowed me to share my opinion without dismissing others’, and helped me better validate other’s feelings.
The magic principle?
Use “and” instead of “but.”
When used to connect two phrases in a sentence, the word “but” essentially dismisses the first phrase altogether. This isn’t always an issue, but when it undoes praise, agreement, or an important point, it can start to become a problem.
Think about it.
Imagine you’re meeting with your manager at work one day to sync up on a few projects you’re working on. The day prior, you presented a project that you and your team had been working on for weeks and you feel quite proud of how it turned out.
During the course of your conversation, your boss turns to you and says:
“You did a great job on that project last week, but—”
Stop. What is he going to say next? You obviously don’t know for sure, but you’re almost certain it will be negative. “Uh oh,” you may think to yourself, “I screwed up.” You’ve already forgotten the compliment (he said you did a great job on the project) and have moved on to worrying about what he thinks you did wrong.
Now imagine he says:
“You did a great job on that project last week, and—”
Now what? You still don’t know what he’ll say, but you do know that he thinks you did a great job on that project. He could say just about anything he wants to now, and it wouldn’t detract from the fact that you did a great job.
He may say, “…and there are a few things I’d like you to pay closer attention to next time,” or, “…and I noticed a few errors…” and the feedback is still far easier to hold.
From working to parenting to dating.
This principles applies to just about every area of life. Whether you’re in an argument with your significant other (“I understand why you’re frustrated, and I didn’t mean for it to come across that way”), parenting a young child (“I know your tired, and you still need to clean your room”), or even turning down a second date (“I had a great time, and I would prefer to just be friends”), this simple switch makes a noticeable difference.
I’ve even found this swap valuable in my own thinking. For example, where I once would have thought, “I did really well up there, but I totally missed that third point!” I now think, “I did really well up there and I totally missed that third point!” Notice how the first sentence dismisses the fact that I did well and focuses on the mistake, while the second allows both points to be true.
Give it a shot.
While there is certainly still a time and a place for using “but,” I’ve found that swapping it for “and” improves the delivery and reception of feedback with amazing consistency. Pay closer attention to your own comments and try making the swap. I’m confident you’ll be impressed with the difference it can make.