The powers of ‘and’ & ‘but’

SpeechbubbleDuring our assignments, we find ourselves spending a fair amount of time sharing tips and tools around the topic of workplace vocabulary. When we are being intentional and conscious about the words we use, we can positively impact our team and the culture around us. When we are less mindful about the words we use, we can trigger negativity, hostility and conflict. For this week’s Tuesday Tip we wanted to touch on the power of the word ‘and’.

In order to demonstrate the positive power of ‘and’, we first need to look at how we use the word ‘but’. A very short word, but oh so powerful. Did you notice what just happened?! The fact that ‘but’ is ‘a very short word’ was just trumped by it being ‘oh so powerful’. Both parts of the sentence are true, however you were verbally guided to take on the emphasis of the second part of the sentence. Through the use of the word ‘but’ it was indicated the first part of the sentence was less important. It was verbally pushed to one side.

In that example no feelings were harmed, however at work a co-worker might say, “That was a solid analysis but we could make the charts larger”. Which part of this sentence took on emphasis for you? The bit about your solid analysis or the fact you didn’t make the charts large enough? The word ‘but’ can really punch positivity in the gut, it negates and deflates all the good that went before it, even though both parts of the sentence can be equally true. If on a daily basis, a manager defaults to using the word ‘but’, the recipients are very likely to feel that while their manager did give an acknowledgement, it was quickly whipped it away, and before you know it that manager could be perceived as being someone that can never be pleased or someone for whom projects and reports are never good enough. However, that manager, may not feel that at all, and may be confused by the slight tension in the air and the unwillingness for his or her team to share. Do you have a co-worker or manager whose choice of vocabulary just doesn’t land very well?

The antidote for all of us is really simple. Instead of defaulting to the word ‘but’, replace it with a powerful ‘and’.

“That was a solid analysis and we could make the charts larger”. Feel the difference? The word ‘and’ has the notion of progression, building on what came before. This version of the sentence feels more invitational and positive. Nothing was taken away. This approach is particularly useful during brainstorming sessions. How often have you heard yourself saying “that’s a great idea but what about……”. You may well have just stomped on a great idea and trodden on a feeling or two, the impact of which might be that everyone in the room will hold back their ideas for fear of them being stomped on too. Instead, saying “that’s a great idea and what about…..” promotes collaboration, creativity and invites the team to offer up and discuss the pros and cons of solutions.

Watch for this at home too, for example with our kids we might say “Great job on those straight As, but what’s going on with that C for Biology?” Way to go making your offspring feel that the acknowledgement is primarily on the C and not on all the hard work to get those As! You could however try this instead, “Great job on those straight As and what’s going on with that C for Biology?” When you replace the ‘but’ for an ‘and’ you change the tone. In this case, you will keep the acknowledgement for those As on the table and help this to be a more open and less confrontational conversation.

Reconsider your use of language this week and how your words impact others. There will always be a need for the word ‘but’, but (!) it doesn’t have to be our unconscious default word. Try out ‘and’ in all your encounters and watch the positivity grow. It’s pretty awesome.

It’s a new year

166303-fireworksTime-changing Samoa has become the first country in the world to ring in the new year. Source: HWT Image Library


I know a host of people who have favorite holidays. For some it’s Memorial Day weekend, for many others it’s Halloween, which by my reckoning isn’t officially a holiday at all? I would say that for coaches, professionally speaking, that favorite holiday could be New Year – but with caveats.

New Year finds us filled with optimism and new resolve. With good intentions and fresh energy. It’s a wonderful feeling, until that is, it’s not. Here are six things to avoid.

1. Setting new goals that have absolutely no relationship to how you want to lead your life.
Do you find yourself making a list of random goals? This is in fact setting yourself up for failure! Instead, take a few minutes to imagine where you would like to be, or how you want to feel, exactly one year on from today. Jot down some notes about it. Now work backwards. What are the activities or ways of being that will get you to that vision? Break these activities into achievable tasks and make each a mini goal with an associated completion date or other relevant metric.

2. Repeating something that you did last year that didn’t work.
What’s to say if you go about your business exactly as you did last year, your life will turn out any differently? Perseverance is admirable but if something in your life didn’t work the year before, it might be time to take a different perspective and try an alternate route to reach your goal. Reflect back to ‘what worked’, and ‘what hasn’t worked’ in the past year, and in prior years too. Now make a plan using all the things that work for you, or a way to revise the things that didn’t and build from there. If you couldn’t get over your hurdle last year, go around it this year!

3. Under estimating how long it will take to achieve your goal.
As coaches we encourage you to have a healthy relationship to your goals. Acknowledge each small success as you journey along and find gratitude for everyone you meet and resources that show up. Your end goal may well shift a little based on what you learn along the way so be mindful and present with the small things that bring the greater goal closer.

4. Assuming that happiness is on the other side of success/your goal.
It’s a big trap to think ‘I’ll be happy when (fill in the blank) happens’. It is much more liberating to find your happy place right now and take it with you on your journey.

5. Getting confused between a commitment and a goal.
If you are results driven, know that commitments are harder to measure. You can commit to getting home to have dinner with the family more, and subjectively you could say that you did or didn’t do that over say a month. However, setting a goal such as – “Every Wednesday and Friday I will leave the office at 6.30pm to get home to have dinner with the family”, has much more energy and accountability. Vagueness can kill a great intention because it’s just too wishy washy for you to act on it.

6. Waiting for New Year!
The downfall to the concept of New Year, and its associated resolutions, is that a lot of folks feel that they have to wait for it to come around – but why? You can take inventory on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis. Lock in what you’ve learned, reinvigorate and revise your actions accordingly. (There are plenty of different lenses through which to review our prior year. This is our favorite. 2012 : What brought us together. What’s on your personal highlight reel?)

One of our plans for 2013 is to use this spot as our ongoing journal for thoughts and observations (please note we are not ready to set a clear goal around how many times we might write. We are still going through the process of #1 above!).

If you are interested in professional development tips and skills please subscribe to the Considering Starlings Periodical which will take a deeper dive on a wide range of professional development topics. You can subscribe on our home page.

Wishing you a wonderful New Year full of learning and growth.

Something’s about to hatch


Photo credit – Mike Richey

With our various colleagues, clients and collaborators, we’ve have been customizing both company culture and professional development programs for several years. As you can imagine, once you become intimate with a company’s culture and dynamics, you become a resource for many of its human capital needs.

We now find ourselves in need of a naming concept that is large enough to incorporate our educational programs, our coaching offer, our One Voice brand development program, and still be inclusive of all the great assignments we’re asked to be involved with.  It’s quite a lot to package under one humble umbrella but the search has been sweet.

We’re pleased to share that we’ve found our muse in the curious murmuration. The murmuration is essentially a flock of starlings; its self organized, adaptable, responsive, transformational nature inspires us and yet challenges us. We see murmurations as a great metaphor for workplace behavior. We’ve been watching closely and these starlings have provoked us to ask many questions about the possibilities and potential within companies and organizations, hence our new name. ‘Considering Starlings’ is about to hatch and then hopefully, take flight.

We want to become the go to place for professional development. Offering a highly actionable, energetic and immersive approach. An affordable alternative for companies and individuals who are done with rooms full of demotivated employees being ‘trained’ with dry and out of date materials. We believe that everyone can be fulfilled at work so we’re setting out to build a company around that belief.

Along with the new name we have also redesigned the way you can purchase our educational programs. We heard that not everyone has 9-months to commit to a course of professional development so we’re introducing ‘Read & Coach’ in 6-week increments. You can achieve a lot in 6-weeks!

All to say, please take a look around the website which, while under development, will still give you a snapshot of what’s to come.

It’s time to acknowledge a few people too. Firstly, to EVERYONE who has been part of a study group and contributed your fears, your joys and supported your peers in their learning. You guys are truly the gift that keeps on giving. Scott and Lisa McKee for endless support and referrals. Sally Eastwood for your thoughtfulness and frankness. Lisa Stefan for allowing training program development to be such a hoot! Ank Stuyfzand for the trust. James Morrison for peace of mind. Sara Boucher Rhodes for the encouragement – you have no idea! Julie Weinman for being one of the coolest birds I know. Simon Kennedy for knowing how to handle a vulnerable moment so well. Margaret Aleles for being my personal role model. Bella and Guy for being complete rock stars. Marc & Poppy for your understanding during the periods of silent introversion, and lastly, huge, yet confidential acknowledgement to all clients past and future, who make brave decisions everyday to forward their businesses to become places that foster strong positive cultures for their employees – you are the ones who are making a huge difference in the world.