Words to use with caution: ‘But’
From our free The Pegasus NLP Newsletter
Imagine you are with a close friend and he or she says I really
appreciate you as a friend, I am glad we get to spend time together, and I
especially like your sense of humour… and then pauses and adds
Or someone says
That's a lovely jacket
you're wearing … but…
You did a wonderful
job with this… but…
I like your new
What happens in your mind
when the person says that little word – even before they say anything else?
Generally there is a dual response. We immediately decide that everything
that went before the 'but' is unimportant and is merely a lead-in to the
next piece – which will announce what they really think, feel or intend.
whatever precedes it
BUT negates or cancels everything that goes before it. And is generally
accepted as a signal that the really important part of the sentence is
you use it your listener will give more attention and more weight to what
you say after you say BUT. This tiny little word is widely misused…
Managers use it when giving feedback in appraisals:
You handled that
On the whole your
performance was good… but…
Spouses misuse it:
I really love the way
you touch me … but…
It's great being with
Teachers misuse it:
That wasn't too
Your spelling is good
… but …
In each case it is likely
that person speaking fully intends to be helpful or complimentary. But they
step on this verbal 'landmine' and it demolishes the effect they are
attempting to create.
are other ways having the same effect without using the word. For example
'yet' and 'however' can be used with similar negative impact:
I enjoyed that …
You made some good
points just now… and yet…
What to do
Simply replace BUT with the word AND! Do it for just seven days and it is
likely that you will use it a lot less in future.
I had a great evening
out with you but perhaps we tried to pack too much into it
Your performance in
your job has been very good but I'd like you to be more of a team player
I agree with a lot of
what you are saying but I wonder if we could examine this particular
I had a great evening out with you AND
perhaps we tried to pack too much into it
Your performance in your job has been
and I'd like you to be more of a team player
I agree with a lot of what you are
and I wonder if we could examine this particular point
You may find this a bit of a
stretch, incidentally, because this little word and the attitude that goes
with it is a quite deeply ingrained part of the culture of native English
speakers. (I cannot speak for other cultures but I'd like to have your
comments on this.)
Be careful with your use of 'and', too. If you over-emphasise it and,
especially, if you pause before and after using it this will have the almost
same effect as using but!
way to use ‘But’
Of course, there's nothing wrong with using 'but' as long as you are aware
of how it will influence the other person's thinking. Which is why I used it
twice in the above text – yes, it was deliberate :-).
Use it, for example, when you want to acknowledge something negative but
emphasise the positive alternative
That wasn't your best
effort BUT I know you will do better next time.
OK, so we screwed up
there BUT lets learn from our mistakes and move on.
We're certainly facing
some huge obstacles with this project BUT I know we can succeed.
Why make a
fuss about one little word?
In corporate work I've seen experienced managers make great feedback
comments and then sabotage the effect by adding 'but'. I've heard people
tell their spouses or life partners how much they love them and then spoil
the effect with a 'but'. And I've seen parents evoke unwelcome responses in
their children with careless use of their 'buts'.
intentions are not enough
It's not enough to have good intentions. A core principle of NLP, and one
that is so important that it permeates all of our own
NLP courses in the New Forest, is that
you are responsible for the impact of your communication.
You can begin taking even greater responsibility for your impact by becoming
very aware of your use of 'but'. Use it with great care or simply replace it
See this article on the word 'Try':
And another one here:
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By Reg Connolly, Director of Training,