Have you ever thought about how much is said AFTER you agree, compliment or encourage a person when you clarify the comment by saying “but…,” “have you considered…” or some other extension? When an employee comes to you with a suggestion or solution to an issue, do you stop yourself at, “Great work…let me know how it works!” or do you clarify by saying, “Great idea…what about…?” Far too often we assume an idea is implemented once it is stated and gravitate to the “what’s next” phase rather than providing praise and validation for the idea or concept that was developed. We move to the “next steps” without considering that the person initiating the solution has not yet put it into practice so our “it was stated so it must already be done” thinking may be a discouragement to them. What we meant as encouraging is often heard as being condescending – minimizing the value of their solution by building a tower upon their foundation without acknowledging the work and effort that went into the initial phases of construction. Recognizing the reality of this flaw does not eliminate it from happening. I often find myself acknowledging that what was suggested is a great start BUT that I assume it is well on the way to implementation SO where can “we” go from there?
Relationships can also suffer unless we be careful about what is said after the “but.” “That dress looks great on you BUT you should try something in blue.” What do you think is focused upon – that the dress looks good or that the color is wrong? “The lawn looks nice BUT what can we do about the weeds?” Was your work appreciated or did you NOT do something that was more critical than what you DID? Other examples might include:
· “Thanks for helping out with the cleaning BUT you missed a spot.”
· “I’m sorry BUT you started it.”
· “It’s been a great vacation BUT I can’t wait to get back to work.”
Think about what comes AFTER the BUT in these statements. THAT is what people around you hear. Would you like to build a relationship with someone that focuses on what you did NOT do rather than what you DID? With someone who deflected responsibility by sharing blame? With someone that liked to be with you UNLESS given an alternative? What is said after a clarifying extension can be disruptive in a work relationship BUT it can destroy to a personal one.
How many times have you complimented an employee, a friend or a family member only to be disappointed they did not respond to your praise as validating or uplifting? Might you have minimized your compliment with an ill-placed “but?” Have you been guilty of telling a child, “I’m happy you got an 89% on that test BUT I know you could have done much better? You are smarter than that!” What do you think they heard – that you are happy for what they did OR disappointed that they could not have done better? Talking to an employee, if you say “Great work today – tomorrow we will be able to do even more!” What do they REALLY hear – that you thought they did well OR that they should have done better?
Acknowledging our tendencies to minimize the efforts of others is a great first step – accepting them as potentially destructive and committing to do something about them is more important. As you communicate with others, think about what HAS happened rather than focusing so much on what COULD have happened (or on what has yet to be accomplished). Give credit and praise rather than extending your comments or compliments with “BUT…,” “WHAT IF…,” or “HAVE YOU CONSIDERED?” If extensions are needed, address them within a separate conversation RATHER THAN putting them behind a “but…” Make sure that what is important is heard rather than being lost as insignificant noise – whether at work or in your personal life – as you focus on what really matters to others as well as yourself.