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April 25, 2013

Creating More Positive Messages: No BUTs About It!

The most recent demo to the client went well, but we were not able to convince the US client why the additional feature was not required. 

While this opening statement could be a more common way to give 'negative feedback' in some teams in India, and motivate teams to work harder or do something different next time, this same sentence to an American would be remembered as negative and as though someone made a mistake. The American would not believe the client demo went well at all because the client was not convinced about why the additional feature was not needed. The American may get demotivated. However, it if was reworded differently, we may have a better chance to motivate the  American to respond differently.

For most people, especially in the US, the words before but would be positive, and the words after but, negative. Or, whatever said after but totally negates any positivity in the beginning of the message.

Interestingly, when I used to talk about this topic in India, many Indians I coached, said they felt this was a pleasant and team building way to give 'constructive criticism.' Having myself worked in India for close to 10 years, I do see this is a valid point. And, had received messages like this which I had to read between the lines to decifer.

However, if you are in India working on a project team with Americans all the hard work you would have put into your positive message (which Americans LOVE) would be negated, reduced or nullified if a 'but' comes into the conversation. There are ways to still get the message out without the 'but.' Yes, the tone difference may be hard to detect if you aren't used to it, but Americans know! Let's see how to do this in this post! 

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 was MIA today, but she will come in on Saturday to make up the time.
Instead: Elizabeth was MIA 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.

Additional Examples:
With but: I received the client's meeting invite, but had to decline it. 

Without but: I received the client's meeting invite. I had to decline it.

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 via email or in virtual meetings. 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 

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Authentic Journeys: Bridging Culture on Virtual Teams

We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Salt Lake City, Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.