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Last week I was thinking a lot about feedback as I was preparing to give a class about it as part of my reserve duty in the Israeli Air-force. One of the issues with feedback and communication in general is that because people’s perceptions are selective and interpretive (meaning: we only hear what we want to hear), words create reality. As I wrote just a few days back, the way you say something is just as important, if not more, than the content.
As I was dealing with feedback sessions aimed at creating a positive conversation that will enable the person to see things from different perspective so he can achieve self-growth to match his skills with the right challenges (the core definitions of flow), the issue of what words to choose in such a conversation became very important. One word in particular became very important: “But”.
You know this one very well. Everybody knows they need to start the feedback with something positive and get to the improvement part (I personally stopped believing in this conventional wisdom a while back). The word “But” is somewhere in the middle. And this is what some smarter people wrote about it:
“But” is a very dangerous word.
It puts people on the defensive.
It makes them think there’s a catch.
It negates everything you said before.
It reduces the positivity of your argument.
Thenametag guy, author of the preceding quote, goes on to describe 21 alternatives enabling the speaker to avoid the word “But”. Just an example:
6. “That’s a good idea. Have you ever thought about…?”
7. “That’s a good idea. Here’s what you need to be careful of:”
Paul Hebert similarly claims that when you use the word “But” in the middle of the sentence:
…the focus shifted from the positive to the negative. The word “but” has that effect – demoting what comes before it and promoting what comes after.
As I was starting to catch-up on my reading after almost a week with no internet I found myself wanting to comment on some posts people wrote. And I automatically caught myself writing something like this:
You make a very interesting point. BUT, I disagree because…
I stopped and stared at the screen. I hit backspace and rewrote:
You make a very interesting point. I want to add my own perspective…
See the difference?
Very hard to do. My instincts cry out whenever I make myself do such a thing. The effects are, however, powerful.
Language matters. How are you stopping your “But”s from coming out?