‘But’ Out, ‘And’ In

‘But’ Out, ‘And’ In

Laakea Eating CakeOne PR Fix, or communication upgrade, that I learned at the beginning of my career, is to replace using the word “but” with “and” to soften unfavorable language.  While this has come in handy in business, it’s also been useful in my personal communication as well.

Before I learned this, I never really considered how the terms “but,” “however,” or “yet” can actually be negative.  When I stopped to think about it, I realized that they are mainly used in contrary to something and have a subtle way to bring down a conversation.  Why?  Because many times, “but” is used as an excuse or a crutch.  Over and over people use “but” to take the accountability off of their shoulders.  For example, “I did my homework, BUT I don’t have it with me because my dog ate it.” Or “I would have been on time, BUT I got stuck in traffic.”  Even though this is not the case for all uses of “but,” the frequency of  using a “but statement” as a justification for a mistake has dirtied the interpretation of the word.

“But” also gets used a lot in communicating bad news as a way to soften the message.  As we all know, what follows “but” in a bad news situation rarely makes us feel better, such as “You have not been selected for the position, but we recommend that you apply again in the future.”  We’ve been conditioned to seeing “but” as a precursor to a sub-par consolation prize.  

That said, replace “but” with “and” as much as you are able.  “And” neutralizes the message.  “And” means in addition to versus in lieu of, which “but” is used to communicate often.  In general, “and” means more and conjures feelings of having something.  “But” produces feelings of being without.  Note that replacing “but” with “and” in the case of making lame excuses does not work.  An excuse is an excuse.

Let’s see how “and” can work for you in a “but” situation:

BUT: “I’m not able to attend your party, but I hope you have a great time.”
AND: “I’m not able to attend your party, and I hope you have a great time.”

BUT: “We will be happy to refund your order, but we require that you provide us with your receipt.”
AND: “We will be happy to refund your order, and all that we require is your receipt.”

If replacing “but” with “and” doesn’t work in your particular case, consider not using either word and reframe the sentence a bit.  The main point would be not to use “but” or any of its synonyms.   See the below examples:

Instead of: “We don’t have chocolate cake, but we have vanilla, strawberry or lime,”
Say: “We don’t have chocolate cake.  Today, you have a choice of vanilla, strawberry or lime.”

Instead of: “I can babysit for you tonight, but I can’t start until 7 p.m.,”
Say: “I can babysit for you tonight beginning at 7 p.m.”

Do you see how in the first example, vanilla, strawberry or lime cake were framed as second choices to chocolate in the “but” statement?  In the second sentence, vanilla, strawberry or lime cake were reframed like the specials of the day.  

A little crafting to your everyday communications, a PR Fix, can turn a negative situation into a neutral or positive one.  Using “and” in place of “but” is one PR Fix that can elevate your tone and make your delivery, whether spoken or in writing, more effective.

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