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Everything before the but is bollocks

Leigh James

Letter Press

PRO

I see where you’re coming from, but…’

‘He’s a nice guy, but…’

‘We’re really sorry, but…’

But undoes all the words before it

Sat in one of many business-y corporate conferences a few years back, our marketing director shared six words that really stuck with me: everything before the but is bollocks.

And it’s so true. The ‘but’ undoes everything you’ve just said. You can ignore all the guff that comes before – that’s padding. Because whatever follows is what they really mean.

It’s become my little bug-bear.

My personal pet hate is ‘We’re really sorry, but…’. I’ve seen the phrase over and over in ‘we’ve messed up’ apology letters. And I feel it wipes out the sincerity of what the people who wrote them are trying to say.

Why say it?

But can instinctively make people roll their eyes, switch off, or put them on the back foot. It puts people on the defensive. When I hear it, I often cringe, suspecting bad news is coming,

It’s a negative-sounding conjunction. And it acts pretty similarly to the phrase ‘with all due respect’, which people often fall back on when they actually have little or no respect for the person they’re talking to.

Try replacing ‘but’ with ‘and’

But is probably the most limiting word in our vocabulary. It can often change a neutral statement into a negative one. Using ‘but’ closes off the conversation, while ‘and’ opens it up.

So try replacing ‘but’ with ‘and’. See how that changes what you’re saying. And try to listen to yourself when you say (or write) it.

‘I see where you’re coming from, but it’d be clearer like this.’

‘I see where you’re coming from, and it’d be clearer like this.’

What do you think?

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