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The Downfalls Of But

Nov 28, 2007
I really like you, but...

I agree with you, but...

Your hair looks great, but...

How do these three examples strike you? Do you get the feeling that what's coming next might not be very agreeable?

Learning to have a precision with language is one of the most important aspects of persuasion. The big 'but' is a negator which will cost you persuasive power.

'But' weakens your ability to persuade. This is across the board--in print, in conversations, in e-mail, in all forms of communication. It's a tiny, yet dangerous word.

Here's an explanation of how 'but' can hurt you. Let's take an example from above. Have you ever had a romantic interest say to you, 'You know, I really like you a lot, but. . . '? Ouch. I'm not sure I want to hear what's next. '. . . but I'd just like to be friends.' Bummer. And yet, you saw it coming at the but, didn't you?

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

The use of 'but' in the sentence negated everything that came before it. What is 'I agree with you, but. . . ' really saying? It's saying, 'I don't agree with you.'

But has the added deficiency of making you sound indecisive or wishy washy. It takes away the power of what you're saying and lessens your authority, exposing weakness in your conviction.

When persuading the affluent, avoiding this appearance of indecisiveness is especially important. 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'?

Pay attention to others when they use the word 'but'. It may feel like they're not telling you the whole truth, like there is something they've neglected to express. You might get the idea that something else is wrong. 'What else am I not aware of?' Our brains automatically perform something called a trans-dierivational search (TDS) in order to search for what's wrong. We actually attempt to read the mind of the person we think is leaving out information. This usually leaves us assuming they disagree with us. This is the very opposite of rapport.

Not too long ago I noticed a big but. A young starlet was being interviewed before she went to jail. Her sentences were filled with incongruency. 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.

But? But what? 'But, I'm beautiful, spoiled, privileged, entitled and I can do whatever I want'? 'But bite me. I'll do whatever I please with no consequences'? See? That's where my TDI search went. I filled in her blank with my own mind reading abilities. I'd wager I'm not too far off on this one.

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

'But the word 'but' is a hard habit to break. . . ' you might say. There's a really easy way to eliminate 'but' and regain your persuasive power. Simply replace it with 'and'.

Eliminate this: 'I agree with you, but I still think I'm right.' And replace it with, '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.'

This will give you WAY more credibility when speaking to others. The more congruency and fewer contradictions you make, the more successful you will be at persuasion.
About the Author
Kenrick Cleveland teaches techniques to earn the business of affluent clients using persuasion. He runs public and private seminars and offers home study courses and coaching programs in persuasion techniques.
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