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One Small Step

A simple change in your vocabulary can make a great big difference in how your leadership is received. Yep, just adjusting the use of one little word is all it takes. The word is “and”.

Where should this be applied you ask? Substitute it for “but” as in “I like your idea, but…” The “but” just killed everything you said before it.

Rather you should say “I like your idea, and…here’s another approach.”

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I was taught this principle many years ago in my earlier days of management. I thought it seemed so trivial, but I admit it made sense to me. Why? I was definitely one of the people who would hear a senior manager say “Doug, I like your idea, but…”. It hurt.

So I employed it right away. Here are some bonus ideas on how to expand the positive impact of saying “and” not “but”:

Liane Davey, author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done, has some great tips at HBR on making yourself heard during a difficult conversation.

“When you need to disagree with someone, express your contrary opinion as ‘and.’ It’s not necessary for someone else to be wrong for you to be right,” she says. When you’re surprised to hear something your counterpart has said, don’t interject with a “But that’s not right!” Just add your perspective. Davey suggests something like this: “You think we need to leave room in the budget for a customer event, and I’m concerned that we need that money for employee training. What are our options?”

Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You, suggests some additional phrases to make sure you’re heard:

  • “Here’s what I’m thinking.”
  • “My perspective is based on the following assumptions… “
  • “I came to this conclusion because… “
  • “I’d love to hear your reaction to what I just said.”
  • “Do you see any flaws in my reasoning?”
  • “Do you see the situation differently?”

This ever-so-slight change can be a pivotal impact for you.

Take a Test Drive

Do yourself a favor by consciously testing this approach for two weeks. When you have confrontations, use “and” when you have a differing opinion or view on a subject. Let the other party know you respect their position or view AND introduce them to yours.

See how things begin to change. My experience suggests communications opens up. The flow of constructive dialogue increases. People are willing to hear differing ideas once they know their thought has not been summarily dismissed by a “..but”.

Here are some other good mentions of this principle.

  1. Ryan Durkin
  2. Problems with Parallelism
  3. There really is an organization