The Big But…

Dear Persuaders,

I really like you, but…

I agree with you, but…

You look great in that dress, but…

Do you get the feeling from these three examples that whatever coming next might not be so good?

Precision with language is one of the hallmarks of a world class persuader and the big ‘but’ is a huge negator which can cost you persuasion power.

‘But’ actually weakens your ability to persuade others.  Whether you use it in print, in conversations, e-mail, or any other form of communication, it’s a tiny yet dangerous word.

How does ‘but’ hurt you?  Well, let’s take the examples above.  Have you ever had a romantic interest say to you, ‘You know, I really like you a lot, but…’?  What usually comes next?

Well, how about, ‘…but I really just want to be friends.’  Yikes!  Or I’m sure we’ve all heard this at least once,  ‘…but I’m just not ready to be in a relationship.’  Ouch!

Then there’s, ‘I agree with you, but…’  But what?  ‘But it’s just too expensive.’  Ugh.  ‘But I still think I’m right.’

Using ‘but’ in the sentence negated everything that came before it.  What ‘I agree with you, but…’ is really saying is, ‘I don’t agree with you.’

Another thing your big ‘but’ can do is make you sound indecisive, wishy washy, or like a dreaded waffler.  It softens the power and strength of your message, lessens your authority, and exposes weakness and avoiding this appearance of indecisiveness is especially important when persuading your prospects.

What’s more persuasive–using negating words like ‘but’, or a more solid statement like, ‘I don’t agree with you, and here’s why…’?

Take special notice when others use the word ‘but’.  Doesn’t it feel like they’re not telling you the whole story, like there’s something they aren’t expressing, something they’re not saying?

You might even get left with the feeling of ‘What else is wrong?  What else am I not aware of?’

When this occurs, our brains perform what is called a trans-derivational search (TDS) in order to internally search for what’s wrong.  You’re actually attempting to mind-read what you think they’re leaving out.  In most cases, this leaves you assuming they disagree with you.  That’s the opposite of rapport.

I noticed a big but awhile back.  Paris Hilton was being interviewed before she went to jail (the first time).  Her sentences were filled with incongruencies and at one point where she said (and I’m paraphrasing), ‘Well, I feel really bad about what I’ve done and I’m ready to face the consequences of my actions, but…’ and then she just trailed off.  She didn’t finish her sentence.

But?  ‘…but, I’m a beautiful, spoiled, privileged, entitled heiress and I can do whatever I want’?  ‘…but bite me.  I’ll do whatever I please with no consequences’?  See?  That’s where my trans-derivational search went.  I filled in her blank with my own mind reading abilities.  I’d say I’m not too far off on this one.  =)

One of the great secrets to persuasion is reading between the lines.  What people say is what they mean.  ‘But’ is a perfect example of this.  Listening to what people say is your job.  Take a moment to distinguish the actual words and you’ll likely be surprised at what they are really saying.

There’s a really easy way to eliminate ‘but’ and regain your persuasive power.  Simply replace it with ‘and’.

Instead of, ‘I agree with you, but I still think I’m right.’ Try, ‘I agree with you and I still think I’m right.’  Instead of, ‘I really want to hire you, but we can’t afford what you’re asking.’  Try, ‘I really want to hire you, and we can’t afford what you’re asking.’

Notice how this gives you more credibility when speaking to others.  The more congruency you have in your communication and the fewer contradictions you make, the more successful you will be in persuading others.



Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 1 comments
DrBillToth - April 30, 2010

Excellent post! Thank you and one of my favorites when coaching business owner’s in the Network Marketing industry is “I want to make more money BUT…I don’t want to talk to anyone I know, I don’t know anybody, I’m not a salesperson, blah blah blah blah.”

Wear a Smile and Wear it Out!

Live With Intention,


Leave a Reply: