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Is there Really Such Thing as a Nice But?

Updated on August 28, 2010

Are These Nice Butts?

Cigarette Butts?
Cigarette Butts?
Baby Elephant Butts?
Baby Elephant Butts?

The Case Against Buts

Ok I admit it was a play on words but I didn't mean to deceive you! You're probably thinking yah right! Of course I used a play on words and a play on words is meant to deceive or mislead. (This is where I get up on my soapbox...) I'm now going to give you the case against using the word 'but' too often in both business and personal communications.

Words Have Meaning

Think about conversations you have had with people. When they say something and transition to the word 'but' what part do you listen to? Me I listen to the second part because that is the real message. The first part before the but is usually a throw away.

"Sure you can have a raise, but we will have to meet quota for the next couple of quarters."

"Yes you can have that new toy, but only when it goes on sale."

"I know what I said was mean and hurtful but you were being kind of selfish."

"You are the hardest worker we have, but you don't have enough experience."

"We are hiring people right now, but you have to have a college degree to apply."

You get the point. Each of these examples is a case where the part after the but is the real message. Even if the point is to pay a complement, the but negates that and leaves a negative taste in the listeners mouth. That is because in each of these cases, when we use the word 'but' the two parts are taken as mutually exclusive. That means they can not both be true. That may not be the case, it is just how the person receiving the message takes the message. (Notice how I did not use the word but in the prior sentence!)

How to Replace the Word 'But'

There are 2 strategies to reduce the use of the word 'but'. The first is the one I used in the italicized sentence above. You just skip over the word and string together ideas as if both fit together. You would be surprized how many times you can just skip the 'but'. This is my preferred strategy if the sentence still works because I'm a big believer in trying to use fewer words to say more.

The second strategy is to replace the word 'but' with another conjunction. Preferably a conjuction that will allow both parts of the sentence to co-exist. The definition of the word but, includes words like contrary, unless, except, otherwise etc. These words all signify contrary messages. There are other conjunctions out there like and where the two parts of the sentence are added together and co-exist. This is the second best strategy because you are saying both messages are true and not at the expense of another.

For instance,

'I believe you have a great potential but you need to work harder.'


'I believe you have great potential and you need to work harder.'

In the 'but' sentence, the message is clearly you need to work harder. The first part before the but is kind of a throw away. In the 'and' version of the sentence, both cases can coexist because they are joined with an 'and'. I'll leave you with this thought, which message would you prefer to hear?

This idea is especially true with small children. We get in the habit of saying 'but' and we end up confusing the child but that is a topic for another article.

Final Thoughts

Of course there are times when 'but' is necessary and useful. I'm only suggesting that there are a number of times where it would be helpful to eliminate the word but. These times include, delivering bad news, debating someone, delivering good news etc. So let's give up the 'but's' and the people you are talking to will appreciate you and listen to you more closely.(Now I'm getting off my soapbox, until the next time!)


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