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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 09-Nov-07

 


Friday 09-January-07

Small words, different effect

How often do you get into an argument or discussion where the other person says something with which you basically disagree? Often enough, if you are like most people. And like many people, your response probably sometimes starts with 'But...'.

When we argue, we are often so engrossed in what we are going to say that we hear little of what the other person says or means. And when we interrupt with 'but', we don't notice its emotional effect on the other person.

The problem with 'but' is that it often means 'everything you said is wrong. Here comes what is right'. If you spoke this full meaning you might not be surprised if it caused insult and anger, but when you use the little 'but' it is easy to miss or misunderstand the response you have caused.

A simple solution lies in another little word: 'and'. Just replacing 'but' with 'and' can have a usefully softening effect. Here's an example:

Them: I want to go to town.
You: But I want to go to the beach.
..or...
You: And I want to go to the beach.

This is a simple oppositional example where each party clearly disagrees with the other. Note how 'but' sets things up for a heated win-lose argument, whilst 'and' lays the ground for a rational discussion that seeks agreement over domination. 'And' can create a subtle steer, guiding the conversation smoothly without the tripwire of 'but'.

Them: Sam is the best person for the job.
You: And I'm wondering who else is there?

The 'and' or 'but' effectively continues the sentence that the other person started, in which 'but' might make more grammatical sense. However, spoken language often contains grammatical errors and substituting 'and' is such a small error and the benefit is so large that only the most fussy of linguists would notice.

Another effect is that 'but' is very percussive, with two hard consonant sounds, effectively striking at the other person. 'And', on the other hand, is soft and less intrusive, giving them less against which to push back. Like soft martial arts, they have nothing to attack as you move them at will.

Small words, big effects. What other little adjustments in how we speak could have such an effect?


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