Eliminate This Word to Improve Every Conversation

woman and man having a work conversation while referring to a laptop on the table between them

One of my full-time obsessions is improving my listening and conversation skills. I enjoy a variety of podcasts and radio broadcasts as a favorite way to do this.

In the past year or so, I’ve heard one specific word far too often. Why? Because it’s a word that:

  • diminishes, defames, and discounts what has just been shared,
  • does not support discussion,
  • promotes a singular point of view, and
  • often shatters optimism.

You’re likely thinking it must be a big word to have that much power in a conversation. It’s not. It’s a tiny word, and I’m working very hard to stop using it in my conversations and writing.

What is this word? Why is it so powerful? How can it be eliminated?

The word is … ‘but’.

Here’s an example of why it’s driving me crazy:

There’s no disputing that the housing situation throughout North America is a huge problem. And there’s no “one way” to fix it. It’s a problem that’s been festering for a long time, and like anything that’s been ignored for years, the solution is complex.

The federal and/or provincial and/or municipal governments announce a small step forward in providing some people with a new housing alternative.

The podcast or radio broadcast will  interview knowledgeable guests about this news, and they will say something like, “Yes, the government has done this, but this is not enough.” Or, “This was announced last week, but it won’t have much of an impact.”

Can you hear how that “but” diminishes the small step forward? And how it eliminates further discussion?

Here’s what happens when the word “but” is replaced:

“Yes, the government has done this, and there’s more for us to do.” Or “This was announced last week, however it will have a limited impact.”

These statements include acknowledging what’s been done and encouraging further action.

When we share opinions or reactions with the word ‘but’, we eliminate encouragement, affirmation and optimism. Instead, we say, “You are wrong” or “You are not enough.”

We want to support more discussion, debate and inspired conversations.

This applies to our efforts on global, national and local issues. It also applies to our work with team members, colleagues and clients. And it supports our ability to strengthen relationships with family and friends.

What is your reaction to the word ‘but’? How are you replacing it in your writing and conversations? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

P.S. Sara Jane has added some insight in the comment section. Scroll down to learn how she interprets “and” versus “but”.

Closing a sale is the natural outcome of inspiring great conversations and listening intently to our potential customers.

This natural approach still involves a process – a plan that moves potential customers through a journey of discovery with you. So ... what's your process? And am I the right sales coach for you? Let's find out.

4 thoughts on “Eliminate This Word to Improve Every Conversation”

  1. Wonderful and timely!!
    Sometimes my hackles go up when I hear “but”.
    It’s an argument. It can put me in the defence.
    It says the other person really doesn’t care about what I’m saying. Or, hasn’t listened.
    Right now the clientele I work with are children.
    I currently have one particular “customer” that uses it a lot.
    I’ve (sadly) been defaulting to “don’t start a sentence with ‘but’,” but saying ‘don’t’ just adds a negative to the mix. And I know this.
    I love that I now have a replacement for this situation- ‘and’.
    And, I can’t wait to use it!!
    When children race to line up I ask them to try again (go back and walk). Now I can say, “let’s try that again using ‘and’ .”
    It creates an invitation – Tell me what you have to add to this discussion.

    • Sara Jane … what a wonderful addition to this post. I absolutely love how you’ve referred to the “and” as “invitation”. How perfect. I’m going to edit the post a wee bit to draw readers’ attention to your comment. Thank you. mj

  2. I have a few “go tos” I choose from in lieu of the word “but”.

    I will follow my statement with “having said that”… OR “at the same time” . It certainly seems to come across as something to take into consideration rather than no.

    • These are wonderful, Judith. Thanks so much for sharing them with everyone. I also appreciate that it opens up the conversation so that other ideas/opinions are considered.


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