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"But" you're sending the wrong message

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

Q: I am responsible for managing 20 people and giving them feedback on how they are doing. I think I am good at giving feedback, I always start with saying positive things, but I’m also wanting them to improve on a few key areas. What am I doing wrong?

A: You are on the right track and I couldn’t help noticing you used the word “but” in your question. I would be curious to know if that is a word you are using when giving feedback to your team? If it is, that may be a big part of your problem.

When you use the word “but” in a sentence, everything you say before the “but” is negated. You might as well not have even said the part before the but; all the person will remember is what you say after the but. The words “but” “however” “although” and “yet” are contradictory words and should only be used when you are wanting to make a contradictory statement. That isn’t what you are wanting to achieve here.

Instead of using “but” use the word “and”. “And” is an inclusive word; it brings two parts of a sentence together. Like peanut butter and honey, you want your sentence to stick together! You want your employee to hold onto your positive feedback, understand what they are doing well and build on it. This simple little word “and” supports that intention.

Notice in my opening sentence to this column I wrote, “You are on the right track and I couldn’t help noticing…” vs. “You are on the right track but I couldn’t help noticing…” Feels different doesn’t it?

It’s a subtle distinction that can be transformational to almost any conversation both in your personal and professional life.

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