April 25, 2013

Creating More Positive Messages: No BUTs About It!

Do you have to deliver difficult messages to your direct reports, clients or customers, but find it hard to come across as positive or inclusive?  

One of the biggest culprits to positivity is the use (especially overuse) of the word “but.”  

Is anyone you know guilty of using or, even worse, over using statements with “but”? If so, in this article, I will share a few strategies that can be used to update your communication style. Changing your style of talking will bring more positivity to otherwise difficult messages, and at the same time promote inclusivity, empathy and team building.

Did you notice in the opening how the question starts off positive and ends with a tone of negativity? Read it again. Can you figure out why this happens?

The main culprit here is the use of the word “but.” Many times, what follows ‘but’ gives an undertone of negativity. If you are guilty of this, are you interested to know a few ‘but’ reducing techniques?

Sure you do! One way of reducing the influence of ‘but’ is to avoid using it! “But, how?” you may ask. There are several ways:

Replace BUT with Other Words or Phrases
Use phrases so, because, instead, and or this is why instead of but

Example 1:
Original: I couldn't finish the call as the connection was bad, but we have rescheduled the call for tomorrow.
Instead: I couldn't finish the call as the connection was bad; this is why we have rescheduled the call for tomorrow.

Example 2:
Original: The raise couldn't be given to three employees, but it will be given as a one time annual bonus.
Instead: The raise couldn't be given to three employees; instead it will be given as a one-time annual bonus.

Example 3:
Original: Elizabeth could not come in today, but she will come in on Saturday to make up the time.
Instead: Elizabeth could not come in today, so she will come in on Saturday to make up the time.

Example 4:
Original: Yes, I have 5 years experience in SAP SD, but I also was certified in SAP HANA last year.
Instead: Yes, I have 5 years experience in SAP SD and I also was certified in SAP HANA last year.


Break It Into Two Sentences:

Example 1: (Note that "but" has been dropped altogether.)
I couldn't finish the call as the connection was bad. We have rescheduled the call for tomorrow.

Example 2:
The raise couldn't be given to three employees. Instead, it will be given as a one time annual bonus.

Summarize and/or Restructure
Example 3:
Alternate: Elizabeth will come in Saturday to make up the time she is missing today.

Example 5:
Original: The team outing was scheduled for this Friday, but we have to reschedule it as it is a holiday.
Instead: Friday’s team outing has to be rescheduled because it is a holiday.

Example 6:
Original: I wanted to finish the project by 5pm, but the power went out, so I couldn't access the system.
Instead: Because the power went out, I was unable to access the system. That's why I couldn't finish the project by 5pm


What are your thoughts on the replacements?

Take note:

  • Most messages that follow "but" are not positive. Notice the tone difference with the replacements and/or word order changes
  • Even when the message after but is positive, the use of but reduces the positivity
  • Using ‘but reducing techniques’ eases the tone.
  • If applying these techniques directly to your oral communication is challenging,
  • practice writing your messages before delivering them. Write the same message a few different ways. Use the one that sounds more inclusive and empathetic. To test that, think how you might respond if your boss said that to you. If a defensive, negative tone is felt, continue editing.


Changing how we speak is not easy. Some of us even get defensive about it because our speech identifies who we are, and to change that changes our very being. I do appreciate and empathize with this viewpoint. It can cause mental anguish and even feel like a part of us is being threatened to change our communication style. In this case, we must think about the bigger picture. How do we want others to remember us? What do we want our legacy to be? If we prefer to be remembered as open minded, compassionate, inclusive and understanding, this plus many other communication techniques can help us to achieve this. As we evolve our communication style, we naturally become more at ease with ourselves and the world around us.

Jennifer Kumar is a corporate coach helping professions with an average of 10 years of experience learn to command English better across global borders. Contact her today to learn more.

Related Posts:
Speak English in an expressive way 
Finding Peace with a Difficult Situation  
How to talk about accomplishments 

Networked blogs link: http://networkedblogs.com/KEOzo

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