Don’t Say But

Dont Say But

Jason Murillo, Editor-In-Chief

I’m not the biggest fan of the phrase “actions speak louder than words.”


Human interaction, which includes conflicts, is rooted in speech. With the exception of sign languages, words are the primary source of communication between humans, whether verbal or written. Through communication, we can have peace. However, through miscommunications, we have conflicts or, worse, violence.


This happens even when well-intentioned, like when giving feedback. People feel insulted when something they have worked so hard on is told that it could improve. People get defensive, even when the feedback was well-meant. 


To avoid this, my advice is to not say “but.”


Everyone, and on multiple occasions too, has used a sentence that has had contrasting clauses. For example, when giving feedback, “I thought you did a really good job with this project, but [something the person found wrong with it].”


Everyone has definitely heard a sentence with this formula when receiving feedback and may be accustomed to it. People may be fine with this, subsequently. However, the “but” in this sentence puts it at high risk of misinterpretation or causation of conflict. The “but” undermines the positive of the sentence and emphasizes the negative, making it the topic of discussion. Using the “but” does not highlight the gray, it only highlights the black.


It could be said that people should be mature enough to handle criticism without causing a fuss about it; accepting feedback is a primary method of improving a piece of work. If it were really that simple, though, why is defensiveness towards feedback so common? Those who may be opposed to this have definitely responded negatively to feedback. Defensiveness is a natural human response that can not be stopped.


If you find it absolutely necessary to give heavy weight to a negative in a sentence, use “and.” This conjunction does not undermine either clause of the sentence. It does not minimize the positive or negative. You might find this awkward at first, but all changes require adaptation. Maybe you can’t stand giving equal weight to the negative and positive. They have to be different in weight. There are other contractions that can help do that. “Although”, “even though”, and “while”. This way, you can put the negative at the beginning of the sentence and leave it with a positive note. You can even do this with “but”.


Also, recognize that you don’t even have to link these sentences together. Add a verbal period between the two clauses with a pause. 


Away from the topic of feedback, sometimes after a miscommunication, you may have to apologize. Do not say “but” in an apology because it nullifies the apology. You may as well curse out the person at that point. When you say an apology like this, you are taking the apology away from you and your actions. Apologies are meant to express your regret for an action – not a defense of an action. If the time and place come, you may defend your actions. In an apology, however, it is inappropriate.


With these changes, the other person is less likely to see your comment as an attack on them.