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.