The word “but” uniquely triggers every human being when it’s directed to them because we generally misuse the term, rendering its use counterproductive. Furthermore, when we use the word “but”, we don’t correctly use it to convey an authentic representation of what we are trying to communicate effectively and clearly. This is why “but” has an aggressive, accusatory, distrustful connotation. It’s high time we broke this habitual pattern in our speech and used empathy and authenticity to effectively communicate.
When we make any statement —a declaration, assertion, opinion — whatever it may be, and then use the word “but” directly after our statement, what we are doing is negating our previous statement. And we don’t want to negate our previous statement, or any statement, because we don’t want to render our words used to describe our experience, thoughts, feelings, and reality as insecure and unclear. We also need to deeply reflect upon the words others communicate to us so we can respond from a place of empathy instead of a place of competition to “win” an argument or appear more knowledgeable than others.
Even if you say the word “but” with conviction, confidence, and poise, you are still doing yourself and others a disservice because choosing to say “but” still exercises the function of negating your previous statement. My cousin in PA school affirmed this mindset by sharing with me that her class is taught this same information about the word “but” when learning how to communicate with with their patients with empathy, understanding, and mindfulness. Amazing! I love to see conscious communication being valued!
To explain: The Oxford English definition of the word “but” is:
Used to introduce a phrase or clause contrasting with what has already been mentioned.
Example: “he stumbled but didn’t fall.”
If you don’t mean what you say, then you render what you say untrue.
The solution: the word AND.
By using “and”, you assert the truth that two statements can be true and you are binding those two true statements with the conjoining word, “and”.
I’ll provide an example of incorrectly and ineffectively using the word “but” in a conversation with my husband, John.
Me: “I know you love me and respect me but I see you are still not turning off the light when you’ve left the room after I’ve repeatedly asked you to please do so. What is the reason for this?”
By starting this conversation with the opening statement: “I know you love me but…you’re doing this”, I’m actually communicating these thoughts and feelings:
“You don’t love me, you don’t respect me and my words”.
Why is this the actuality of what I’m communicating? Because my next statement will come after the word “but”, which is a word meant to contrast with what has already been mentioned by me.
The truth is, my conveyed statement of: “You don’t love me, you don’t respect me and my words” is not true and is therefore counterproductive.
Here’s an example of how to effectively use the word “and” in place of “but” to dictate conscious communication, authentic expression, and effective dialogue.
Me: “I know you love me and respect me and my words and with that said, I see you are still not turning off the light when you’ve left the room after I’ve repeatedly asked you to please do so. What is the reason for this?”
I used “and” coupled with “with that said” to authentically convey that I do, in fact, know John loves me and respects me and my words — I have not communicated an assumption or insinuation that I think and feel that he actually doesn’t love and respect me by using a contrasting word such as “but”. I have exercised empathy in my response. And now that I’ve used “and” to authentically and effectively convey and communicate two points that I wanted to make, I now have created an authentic and trustful space for John to respond authentically and effectively.
More examples of using “but” ineffectively in a statement:
“I know but…” — Incorrect. If you knew, you wouldn’t say “I know BUT…”
“I see your point, but…” — Incorrect. If you truly saw the other person’s point, you would not contradict yourself by saying “but”.
“Yes, but…” — “Yes” is a definitive word, a definitive statement. Saying “but” right after it is a clear contradiction.
“No, but…” — “No” is also a definitive word, a definitive statement. Saying “but” right after it is also a clear contradiction.
“Okay, but…” — This statement is a blatant disregard for the words someone just shared with you because “okay” is an exclamation used to express agreement or acceptance.
Below are effective, authentic, and empathetic responses using the word “and” instead of “but”. Remember, two statements can be true and you can bind those two true statements with the conjoining word, “and”.
“I know, and” — Two statements can be true; you can agree with someone or communicate understanding by saying “I know” and adding another statement, hence the use of the word “and”.
“I see you’re point, and…”
See and feel how much more secure and authentic that sounds? Empathy and mindfulness (mindfulness being ‘conscious communication’ as I like to call it) allow us to communicate with authenticity, intention, and effectiveness. This is why we have the ability to recognize that we misuse and abuse the word “but” AND that we can evolve and use more accurate language.
Additional words and phrases to use in place of “but”:
- “When in fact…”
- “With that…”
- “With that said…”
- “And yet…”