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The Big, Annoying “But”

Angie Morgan, October 1, 2018


The Big, Annoying "But"

Have you ever received a backhanded compliment? “You’re a really great presenter, but with more experience, you’ll be better.”

Or, have you ever received feedback that was well-intentioned, but just rubbed you the wrong way? “The project you put together is excellent, but before it gets submitted it just has to get a grammar review.” 

Those “buts” are just annoying. Why are they there, anyway? I get it … conjunction, junction, what’s your function, hooking up words and phrases and clauses….

But if you recall the song, there are other words that connect ideas – and I can think of one, in particular, that could transform the sentiment of these sentences. That word is and.” Go on, try it right now with those sentences.

It’s okay to use “but” to connect your thoughts. However, when you’re giving people feedback, it just doesn’t invite. I know that when I hear a positive statement, followed by the word “but,” it negates everything positive that I’ve just heard.

Here are some additional ideas to ensure your feedback is delivered in a way that inspires, versus alienates: 

  • When you give people feedback, be purposeful. Think about how you want them to feel, and what you want them to do differently before you deliver it. Considering the receiver’s perspective will help you deliver your message more effectively.
  • Sometimes, there’s no need for a “but” or “and.” Maybe positive feedback should stand alone. The same goes for negative feedback. If you want to tell someone in the moment that they did a great job, and you want them to feel pride, give the praise … and stop there. If you have development ideas for them, save it for later.
  • Consider who the feedback is for. Is it for you to ensure that you’re holding people accountable, or is it for them to grow and develop? Ideally, it’s for both, but sometimes feedback is delivered in a manner that satisfies the sender’s ego … but doesn’t inspire the receiver to develop.

Sometimes the smallest tweaks in our communication can have a transformative impact between us and others.

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