Giving feedback is a very important communication skill needed to ensure that the team members understand their contribution to success and learn from any mistakes.  But there’s one word that is very important to use well if you’re going to get the desired affect (and you’ll see what I did there in a second!)

And that word is “but”.  And it plays interesting tricks on the mind.

When you use “but” in the middle of a sentence, people hear and remember what you say after the “but” much more clearly than what you say before it.  For example, if you say “the team have made some great productivity improvements, but the results should have been much better”, your colleague will only hear your disappointment in the achievements.

By replacing “but” with an “and”, both pieces of the sentence are more equally noticed, balanced and can lead to a very different reaction.   For instance, “the team have made some great productivity improvements, and by continuing in that way the results should be even better”.

If you have just finished sharing an idea with a colleague and the first words they say are “Yes, but…”, would you get the impression that they hadn’t been listening, or that your idea has been rejected?  Alternatively, if they said “Yes I agree and…”, you may get the sense that they are listening and want to move your idea forward.

What would your team members hear from the way you use “but”?  Aim to notice how you can enhance your communication with yourself (self talk) and others by using ‘and’ instead of ‘but’.

Why not try this exercise?  Pair up with someone and agree on a topical issue to discuss. One person has to argue the case FOR the issue and the other AGAINST, although neither of you are allowed to use the word BUT.  The one with the fewest BUTs wins.  You may also notice that you listen more attentively and ask questions about the other person’s point of view, communicating more effectively.

It is worth bearing in mind that there is also a way you can use “but” constructively to motivate someone.  Eg, “We’ve had a difficult year, but our goals are back on track” moves attention away from the negative, towards the positive.

And watch out for “however” and “although” as alternatives to “but”!!


Find out more information on how executive coaching can help develop feedback skills.


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