Two Opinions, One Word, Zero Listening.


Have you ever been in a conversation where you each have a differing opinion? Of course you have, that’s a large reason for conversation! And while you know that you’re having a civil, perhaps even pleasant, discussion, you increasingly feel that you’re getting further and further apart? Despite the fact that you’re really listening to each other?

It’s because really, you’re not.

“Allowing each other to talk” is not the same as “listening.”

There’s a pattern of discussion that we believe fosters listening, when in reality it sneakily hinders it.

Fortunately, there’s a trigger word that lets us know when we’re in it.

Here’s the template:

  1. Acknowledge the other’s words.
  2. Add the connector word “but.”
  3. Reinforce our own perspective.

On the surface, it’s wonderful to validate the other person first. I know I feel valued when I’m heard, and I tend to soften. It’s also great to voice our own thoughts and opinions. Visits with a conversational doormat isn’t stimulating. or fun. The subterfuge comes when we connect the two with “but.” Because everything before that word becomes diminished — including the person who we believe we’re acknowledging.

Think about it:  you’ve been the recipient of this, too. The other person appreciates what you’ve said, and then they proceed to tell you why you’re wrong through sharing how they feel differently.

As soon as we say the word “but,” we negate everything that we said before it. {Click to Tweet this}

The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.


Here are some examples:

  • “Finding a hotel along the drive does provide freedom, but I want to know where I’m sleeping ahead of time.”
  • “You’re right, it’s sad she lost her job–but she brought it on herself by telling off her boss.”
  • “I’d love a storage building too, but we could park in the garage if we’d just clean it out.”

And, how about these:

  • “I can see why this is your favorite pizza, but I don’t care for the sauce.”
  • “I miss seeing you too! But this week is no good for me to get together.”
  • “The spin cycle might sound louder than usual, but I don’t notice it.” (Yep. I just now said this to my husband. I’m in the middle of writing about this very thing, and I did it–that’s how easy it is to be in the pattern!)

This, by the way, also applies to our self-talk:

  • “I want to eat healthier, but I really deserve these chips .”
  • “My closet is full, but I have nothing to wear.”
  • “It’s another gorgeous day! But, we need some rain.”

Take a look at my live laundry example, above. We believe that by acknowledging what the other said, we are listening. Truly listening. When we transition with the word “but,” we show why our thoughts are soooo important. And it’s pretty dismissive.  I can tell you that my response left us both feeling deflated, and totally shut down our conversation. Which was not what we were going for.

Both parties work so hard to be heard, that neither are actually listening.

I’m sorry, honey. I’m gonna work harder on that.

What do you think? Are there sneaky synonyms for “but” that have the same negative effect? Is there a way to truly listen, while also speaking your own thoughts? Share in the comments. It’ll help more than only myself work harder on this.

In the meantime, I’m going to run another load of laundry and invite my hubby to listen to the spin cycle with me.

naked minion on the beach

Watch out for those “buts!”


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