No, But & However

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By Bill Auxier, Ph.D.

As a young manager, I had some great mentors that taught me many lessons about leadership and management.  Charlie Johnson taught me a lesson early on that has stayed with me throughout the years, and that lesson emanates from the use of the word “but.”  Charlie taught me that when you give feedback to another, anytime you use the word “but,” you might as well jump up and stick your “butt” in their face!  As you can imagine, if someone is sticking their butt in your face, it would be rather difficult to listen to what they were saying.  Charlie’s premise was that using the word “but” was code for “the next words coming out of my mouth are going to be negative feedback;” therefore, a trigger for defensiveness and non-listening.

buttMarshall Goldsmith agrees with Charlie.  Marshall says that when you start a sentence with the words “no,” “but,” or “however,” all the other person hears is that they are wrong.  The other person will likely go on the defensive to tell you why you are wrong.  Trying to win a conversation about who is wrong and who is right is not effective leadership.  Using the words “no,” “but,” or “however,” is “Habit #5” in Marshall’s list of 20 habits that prevent you from getting to the top.

I’d like to challenge you to do a test on this.  For one week, keep track of your fellow coworkers use of “no,” “but,” and “however.”  Keep track of how many times each person uses one of these words to start a sentence.  I think you’ll be surprised by the frequency.  You’ll also realize how people use these words to assert power.  You’ll also see how others resent it and how it stifles open communication.

To become a more effective leader, keep track of how many times YOU start a remark with “no,” “but,” or “however.”  You might find yourself starting a sentence agreeing with another only to insert a “no,” “but,” or “however” mid-sentence.  For example, “This a great blog article Bill, but….”  You might as well as jumped up and put your butt in my face!  You just contradicted yourself because using the word “but” means you really didn’t think this blog article was good.

Effective leaders monitor their use of the words “no,” “but,” and “however,” and do their best to eliminate these words from their conversations with others.

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