Changing the pattern of professional and personal relationships takes time, commitment and perseverance.
But there’s one simple step you can take now that will reap immediate rewards.
Reduce to the point of elimination your use of the word ‘but.’
‘But’ is a conversational stealth bomb that fundamentally undermines authentic communication.
Masquerading as an easy conjunction to carry conversations forward, it quickly turns dialogue in to two concurrent and jarring monologues. The outcome of which won’t be determined by reasoned and respectful interaction; hierarchy, aggression or volume will hold sway.
‘But’ is on a mission to win points, to win the argument, and its core strategy is to preclude acknowledgement.
It wipes from the table the other person’s point of view, however dearly that perspective might be held.
Too often ‘but’ translates as ‘you’ve missed the point, now I’m going to tell you the truth of the matter.’
Perhaps like this:
A: ‘I’ve smashed all my targets and so now I deserve my bonus.’
B: ‘But the company missed its targets so there are no bonuses.’
A: ‘I have to leave now to take my cat to the vet.’
B: ‘But our most important client is about to arrive for a meeting.’
A: ‘I’m really pleased with this piece of work, I’ve tried so hard with it.’
B: ‘But it doesn’t come up to our standards.’
In each case B has the upper hand and might consider the rally won, and his position reasonable.
A is left with two choices: come back for more, hoping to land a blow of his own, or to accept defeat, retreat and lick his wounds. Feeling that B didn’t even recognise his efforts, care about his beloved and not-long-for-this-world feline friend, or understand his through-the-night efforts to complete the complex project.
If A does retreat, B’s ‘victory’ might well prove pyrrhic. when he next has to approach A, and finds himself wondering why he’s wading through some conversational quick-sand.
There are many habits that executive coaching can tame and using ‘but’ is one of them.
Here’s a strategy an executive coach might suggest you adopt the next time you feel your lips preparing to punch out our favourite three-letter road-block.
Firstly, ask for more information.
‘By how much did you exceed your targets?’ ‘What’s wrong with your cat?’ ‘What makes you so pleased with the work?’
Secondly, listen actively to the response – as opposed to simply pausing before speaking again. This will help to make the other person feel acknowledged and will give you some more data to help frame an answer that will move the conversation forward.
Thirdly, give a response showing that you have taken in to account their views and explain what’s driving your answer, which might be different to your initial knee-jerk reaction.
‘There’s no doubt you’ve had a great year and I wish we could say the same of the company as a whole.’ ‘I’m sorry Tiddles is so poorly and perhaps we can shuffle the agenda so that you do your parts first and then leave.’ ‘Thank you for putting so much effort in, perhaps I could help you make it even better.’
While there’s no silver bullet when it comes to improving authentic communication with those around you, de-commissioning the conversational stealth bomb is very often a step in the right direction.