A Word Diet

Bill Abbate

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Yes, this is a weight loss article, but it is not about losing bodyweight. It is about reducing word weight! That word that can weigh so heavily on us is "but." While this three-letter word is useful as a conjunction for connecting clauses in everyday speaking and writing, we often use it in a way we do not intend. The bad thing is that few of us recognize this little word's impact on everyday life and how it hinders our ability to communicate effectively.

Replace but with what?

Have you ever said to someone, "Yes, but…"

When many of us hear the word "but," we know disagreement is coming. While we may not give it thought, what is said before the "but" becomes less important than what is about to be said.

Put another way, using the word "but" in speech or writing makes whatever is said or written before it irrelevant, shifting the emphasis to what comes after.

How can you get around this to make what you say or write before and after "but" relevant? Simply change the word "but" to "and." This change creates a different meaning using the same words, allowing the original intent of the speaker or writer to come through with less confusion.

As an alternative to replacing "but" with "and," it is sometimes possible to eliminate both words. You will find this use in Example 4 below.

To summarize, the difference between the words "but" and "and" is as follows:

  • "But" subtracts the importance of what is said or written before it in a sentence.
  • "And" adds what is said or written after it to what was stated before its use in a sentence.

Let's now look at some examples of how but & and work in everyday use.

Practical examples

We often get into trouble unconsciously using "but" in our personal and work life. You can quickly and easily eliminate the problems created by this misuse firsthand. Let's examine some sentences to see this effect.

Example 1 (replacing but with and)

You are in the office, and someone explains something to you. You respond, "Yes, but…."

You effectively tell them that what they said is not as relevant as what you are about to say. This can shut down further conversation about the matter, especially when you are the boss or in charge.

If you change to "Yes, and…." you acknowledge that what they said has relevance, and you want to add something that keeps the conversation going.

Example 2 (replacing but with and)

A customer is complaining about something. You respond, "Yes, but…."

They hear the "but" and immediately put their guard up, thinking you are about to refute what they have said.

If you respond "Yes, and…." they will be more open and attentive to what you wish to say. This allows you to add to what they have already said, not subjugate it.

Example 3 (replacing but with and)

You are in a meeting, and someone gives a report. You say, "That's great, Tom, but what about …?"

Because of the "but," Tom hears some or all of his work means less than what you are about to interject. There is a chance Tom will shut down.

By changing your response to "That's great Tom, and what about …?"

You are now adding to his report, and he will more likely respect what you have to say so that you can continue the conversation.

Example 4 (eliminating but & and)

Someone is telling you about a week-long vacation they recently took to Cancun, and you respond, "That's nice, but we just returned from a two-week cruise to Hawaii."

You are telling them their vacation was not as good as yours.

Simply eliminate the word "but" altogether, as in "That's great! We just returned from a two-week cruise to Hawaii."

If said in the right tone, not downplaying what they said, they will not see it as a competition, and you will both have had a nice vacation. However, it may be difficult to pull off without sounding like one-upmanship in this case.

Benefits of reducing the use of but

How often do you use the word "but" in a day? When you begin to pay attention, you will likely be surprised. Most of us use it far more often than we realize.

I have coached many people on this topic, and it never fails to surprise them how often they use the word "but." The results they obtain from this simple word change never fails to improve their ability to communicate more effectively.

As you move from using "but" to "and" people will see you as more cooperative and friendly, creating better rapport with those around you. This is especially important if you have authority and power in your position and want people to be honest and not hold back the truth.

A great side benefit of reducing your "buts" is that you will speak less and listen more. This means you will pay more attention to what others say, which is always good.

Final thoughts

Why not go to work on using fewer "buts" in your conversations and writing? It is one of the greatest ways to build better and more respectful relationships.

If you wish to shift away from using "but," share this article with someone you are close to, such as a colleague, friend, or spouse. Give one another permission to point out each time the word is used. Many of my clients have had fun with this, saying having someone catch them is a great way to begin paying more attention.

I have done it myself with others, and it can be humorous when they call you out on it. Why not find someone to play the "no but" game with today and have some fun!

Like every leader I have worked with, you will be surprised how often you catch yourself using "but." Most importantly, however, is the difference it makes in your personal and work relationships.

I challenge you to make an honest effort to watch your "but" and your "buts." You have much to gain and nothing to lose!

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA
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