It doesn’t happen often, but every now and again, I will admit that I’ve been mistaken. Notice I didn’t say that it doesn’t happen often that I’m wrong, it’s that I only admit it every now and again. This is one of those times.
For years, I used to think that one of the worst words in the English language to use is the word BUT. I wrote a blog post about it. I’ve trained countless seminars when I made it my main focus. My kids think it’s hilarious that I get grown adults to write the words BUT in a seminar. I used to make them circle it and draw a line through it. I don’t do that anymore.
I still believe that it’s a dangerous word. When we use it with others, it tends to diminish or even negate the words of the sentence that we use before we get to it. If we’re trying to coach someone, give a compliment or improve performance, this is a slippery slope. You see it all the time that people give a compliment and then follow it up with but…insert the opposite of the compliment. Doing it this way takes away from the compliment and leaves the listener feeling diminished.
My favorite example is the phrase “You’re doing a great job, but I need you to work harder.” People won’t hear the first part, only that you think they’re lazy. In this example, AND is a much more effective word to use. They focus on the whole sentence rather than the end when you say “You’re doing a great job and I need you to work harder.”
All of this is true and I still believe it and I’m still wrong.
If the word but forces the listener to focus on the back half of the sentence, couldn’t we use this to our advantage? Couldn’t we then use it to improve our persuasive language? Think about it. I instantly become more trustworthy to you if I tell you both the advantages and disadvantages of anything. I no longer look like I’m trying to convince you to do something as much as provide you with enough information to make an informed decision yourself. If I tell you the negative first, though, and then use the word but to get to the positive, it makes you much more likely to focus your attention to the positive part of the sentence. I think of the phrase “The price is outside of the budget that we discuss, but the five-yeared warranty makes it a solid option.” Said that way, the listener will most likely focus on the back half of the sentence and put their attention on the warranty and not the cost.
This is a new lesson for me that I picked up in Robert Cialdini’s book Pre-Suasion and it’s blowing my mind. I’ve been trying it for the last week with outstanding success and it’s left me shocked. It might not be often that I admit to being wrong but in this case, it’s worth it.