What happens in your head when you hear the word BUT?

For many of us, ‘but’ cancels everything that was said before it.

When someone says ‘Yes, but…’ after we’ve made a suggestion, we hear ‘no’ or feel like the other person is ignoring or diminishing what we said.

If your boss intends to be complimentary and says ‘That report was really good, but…’ we ignore the ‘really good’ bit (or think they’re lying) and focus on what comes after the but.

And when our partner says ‘I’m sorry I yelled but I’ve been really stressed lately’, all we hear is the justification. The ‘but’ negates the apology.

So what to do instead…

1. Get conscious of your use of the word ‘but’. For many of us (me included!) it is automatic and habitual. ‘But’ does have a place – we just need to be more aware of the impact it can have.

2. Understand the word ‘but’ does not belong in an apology. Apologise and take personal responsibility for your behaviour. Own it.

3. Swap the word BUT with AND whenever you can. Try it for a week and see what happens. This will see you add to other people’s ideas rather than cancel what they said.

4. If you can’t replace ‘but’ with ‘and’ because what you really meant to say was NO, then you need to work on saying no!

What’s your strategy for minimising the use of BUT?


Leah Mether helps people get out of their own way with the development of soft skills (which are really hard). She is a speaker, trainer, facilitator, mentor and author of the book Soft is the New Hard: How to Communicate Effectively Under Pressure.