The word BUT

Sep 29, 2021Insights by Loius Gerke

Navigate the word BUT

People in positions of influence (and in teams) over other people, need to learn how to navigate the word BUT.

Why? The word BUT is used often but it does not necessarily mean the same thing each time it comes up.

In our Wired to Influence training, we have traditionally linked the word BUT to blame. More recently, I have been reflecting on the possibility that the word BUT should be investigated further before concluding that it indicates blame.

My reflections to date have indicated the following:

The zero degree BUT

Something has gone wrong, and nobody is raising a ‘but.’   Steven Covey said, “seek first to understand,” which is great advice. The zero degree BUT still requires investigation, as a problem always has a root cause.

Please do not see the absence of ‘but’ as an indication that a reason for the situation you find yourself in, does not exist. 

The 90 and 270-degree BUTS

These are the deflections that turn the attention to something ‘outside’. Here the ‘butter’ is deflecting to a third-party or removed influence. It is important to see the deflection and to acknowledge both the topic of deflection and the original topic, as both must be investigated. 

“ ……. but there just has not been the time.” 

“…… but they have not ……” 

“…. but the circumstances have not allowed.”  

Influence requires understanding.

  • Why is deflection an option?
  • Is the deflection valid?
  • Can the deflection be ignored?
  • Does the ‘butter’ have a reputation for deflection? 

The 180-degree BUT

In our Wired to Influence training we refer to this as a boomerang. The issue raised evokes an equal but opposite issue. 

When I raise an issue with my target group and they throw a similar issue back at me, then I have a boomerang in the room. 

Examples include:

“I do not see where you are going with this client” ……… “We do not see where you are going with the business.” 

“You don’t seem to have understood me” ……. “You did make yourself clear.”  

“I’m not happy with the overrun” ……. “You should have thought about that when you committed to this impossible timeline.”  

Boomerangs leave a dreadful stalemate in the air and if the arrangement to negotiate past the boomerang is steeped in ‘conditional giving,’ then each party will first want to see evidence of a change coming from the other, before committing to changing their part in the vicious cycle. 

The 360-degree BUT

This is where the person is taking what you are raising as a personal attack. No matter the situation the ‘butter’ is bringing it back upon themself. There are degrees within the 360 too – there is a severity degree – as an example when you are attacking someone, they may be using the ‘but’ as a form of protest. 

Being able to influence situations where your audience perceives a personal attack, requires attentive listening and thinking on your feet.

  • Hear their response.
  • Consider the reason for this response.
  • Reassure them that you are not attacking them.
  • Re-emphasise your focus on the situation at hand.

My reflections will continue – what I have seen so far is the risk associated with responding inappropriately in situations when BUT comes up.

By Louis Gerke

Facilitator |  Coach | Trainer | Speaker

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