Two Words That Don’t Belong Together

Recently stuck in Halifax traffic, I was able to give my full attention to a radio interview. What I heard was a clear reminder of two words that, when put together, clearly announce our bias and can sound extremely confrontational.

What are these two words and what might we say instead?

The focus of the news item was Canada’s upcoming legalization of marijuana and the radio journalist was expecting to create debate … but her guest didn’t cooperate. His replies to her questions were short, direct and left little to no room for discussion.  Several times, in her efforts to create the interview she’d anticipated, she responded to his answers with  “Yes … but… “.

Each time she said these words, I cringed. The word “yes” in this context rings false. It certainly doesn’t mean “yes, I agree with you”. And because it is followed by the word “but”, it doesn’t mean “yes, I’ve heard you” or “yes, I’m listening”.

When we say “Yes … but …” what the other person most often hears is that we aren’t able to consider their thoughts or opinions, that we have already decided on the “correct” answer or direction for the conversation. These words can easily become a verbal display of our own frustration, prejudice, arrogance or bias, and they quickly limit the possibilities and opportunities of conversation.

What can we say instead? To inspire conversation, we want to let the other person know we’ve heard them, respect their opinion and would like to continue the discussion. Instead of responding with “Yes … but …”, try:

“I haven’t considered that possibility. What are your thoughts on …”

“That’s an interesting perspective. I’ve been thinking that … ”

“That’s not what I expected to hear. What about ….”

And I’m sure there are many other options. How are you avoiding “Yes … but …”?




6 thoughts on “Two Words That Don’t Belong Together”

  1. Great article. It is the same with an apology. If you say I’m sorry BUT, you’ve negated the apology. If you really want to let people know you put the reason up front and then BUT with the sincere apology.
    Ex. I’m sorry but I didn’t get any sleep- WRONG
    I didn’t get any sleep but that was no excuse for my behavior – RIGHT

  2. A simple alternative is “Yes, and…” I learned that one years ago but not sure how successful I’ve been. A reminder is good for all of us. Thanks MJ!


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