This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

The bad but word

It’s one of the shortest words in the English language. It’s also one of the most powerful. Only not in a good way.

I’m talking about the word “but.”

As in:

  • “I know you’re really busy, but I need something.”
  • “You did a nice job on the report contents, but the formatting was a problem.”
  • “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but we’re not going to make the deadline.”

The problem: “But” has the effect of negating everything that comes before it. So those nice acknowledgements (“I know you’re really busy” … “You did a nice job” … “I’m sorry to have to tell you this”) are lost at best, and appear disingenuous at worst.

From a trust-building standpoint, this is bad.

The alternative? Try separating the two thoughts completely, as in two different sentences. Or maybe even two different conversations.

Do not try substituting “however”; it’s just a fancy “but.”

It’s true that not all uses of the word “but” are bad (“I cannot but admire your courage”). It’s just one of those words that we use so often, and usually without thinking, that we inevitably use it in problematic ways. My conclusion over the years: it’s better not to use it at all.

When participants in my workshops practice steering clear of “but” for 30 days, they report an interesting byproduct: a more collaborative mindset that naturally leads to more collaborative interactions.

From a trust-building standpoint, this is good.

Make It Real

See what happens when you make a conscious effort not to say or write “but” this week. What’s difficult? What’s beneficial?

Learn More


Read more about how to create a culture of trust or brush up on caveats in Chapter 9 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).