What’s Wrong with my “But”?

I can’t resist punning with a little humor of the holiday season.  As we snack on goodies, many of us get concerned with what our rear end, our “butt”, looks like.  True?

Of even more concern, though, is our verbal “but”.  Ladies and gentlemen, in everyday conversation, the word “but” after a compliment says “Now here comes the truth! Get ready for the Smackdown!”  Ouch!

Let’s test it.

Notice what happens to your body as you read these sentences.

  • I really enjoy your company, but…..
  • You look very nice today, but…
  • Dinner was great, but…..
  • Your decorations look great, but….

Can you feel it?  When that “but” comes at you, your body tightens as you get ready for the punch of “what I really don’t like about you/what you did” or “how you really are a loser”.  We feel that “ouch!”.

So what can we do about these smackdown “buts” we are giving to other people?  Fixing our verbal “but” can be easy, but it does require some thought and effort.

Here’s how to do it:

  • First,  ask yourself:  Is this putdown/suggestion/complaint necessary to say at all?

Their taste in holiday decorations, for example, are their business, not mine.  Unless I see a fire hazard, I need to keep my mouth shut and let them enjoy them.

  • If it is necessary to say, think about what you want to achieve. In concrete terms.  Perhaps there was more salt in the stuffing/dressing than you like.  How do you say you’d like half that amount of salt next time?

Well, I got a great idea from my husband.  He never criticized my cooking.  No smackdown if something wasn’t right.  Then, the next time I’d suggest making that dish, he’d say, “I wonder if we could make it with about half the salt this time?” or “Let’s try sautéing the potatoes this time, rather than deep frying.” or whatever the issue was.  Smooth!  And because I felt that he appreciated my efforts, I was glad to comply with his wishes.

  • Lastly, spend a few minutes on How to say it without a smackdown.

If you say, “You’re a good friend, but you don’t return my texts.”, you will start an argument about whether or not he/she returns the texts. “Yes, I do!” “No, you don’t!”

So, how about this instead? “I get concerned when I leave text messages for you and I don’t hear back.  If you’re too busy right then, could you send that automated ‘I can’t talk right now’ text?”  This opens a problem-solving conversation on what will work for both parties. Good Job!

Can we ever say a “but”?  Of course we can, as you see in my paragraph above about fixing our “but”. If it’s not about another person or their ideas, it works.  Here’s another example:  “I planned to go shopping today, but the skies opened up and I didn’t want to get drenched.”  As you see, using a “but” like this works well.  Otherwise, don’t use it.

And now you know how to say what you need to say without using the “but” smackdown. Well Done!  Enjoy your holidays.


  1. Andrea Williams says:

    Brad was a wise man about his suggestions for cooking. One of my sister’s husband used to tell her on those rare occasions when a meal wasn’t very good, “It’s okay with me if you don’t make that again.”

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