I love you, but…

If you’ve ever heard, “Honey, I love you but…”, you know “I love you” was a set up and the hammer is about to fall!

Have you ever considered the power of the word “but”? It’s powerful because it negates almost everything that comes before it.

When it comes to persuasion I remind people – Whatever you want to emphasize, and have people most focused on, needs to come after but.

Another way to look at this is the use of the word but reveals (consciously or subconsciously) how you or others truly feel about something. Consider the following you may have seen or heard recently on social media, in conversations with people or on the news.

George Floyd

  • George Floyd didn’t deserve to die but he did have a long criminal history.
  • George Floyd had a long criminal history but he didn’t deserve to die.

The first statement minimizes George Floyd’s death because of his criminal record and has people focused on his past. It conveniently doesn’t mention that he had no run ins with the law since his parole in 2013.

The second statement acknowledges that George Floyd had been in trouble with the law on many occasions. However, he paid for his crimes under our legal system. No matter what his prior record was, he didn’t deserve to die for passing a fake $20 bill.

The Right to Protest

  • I’m all for the right of people to protest but the looting and violence is wrong.
  • Looting and violence is wrong but I’m all for the right of people to protest.

The first statement places more emphasis on the violence than the right to protest. In this case the message of the protest gets minimized because the focus becomes any violence that may have occurred. If we’re so appalled by violence then maybe we need to reconsider big sporting events where violent “celebrations” sometimes occur afterwards.

In the second sentence the actions outside of peaceful protesting are acknowledged while keeping the focus on the right of citizens to gather and protest. I don’t think any Americans want to give up that right that has served our citizens so well for more than 250 years.

Police Behavior

  • We need to root out bad cops but the vast majority of cops are good people.
  • The vast majority of cops are good people but we need to root out the bad cops.

Both statements highlight the truth that most police are good people who want to do what’s right. However, the first sentence minimizes the need for reform by emphasizing cops are generally good people. Unfortunately, we’re seeing too many examples of problems with police actions. Knowing that, the emphasis needs to stay focused on the problem if we’re going to make strides to correct it.

Know Thy Self

Ben Franklin said, “Three things are extremely hard; steel, a diamond and to know one’s self.” Do you know yourself? Pay attention to how you respond to people and situations. Whenever you say, “Yea, but…” you’ll begin to see what you value most.

To Do This Week

When you encounter a “Yea, but…” situation recognize you’re gaining insight into what someone values. If you want to influence someone’s thinking try reframing the conversation by agreeing before moving on to what you want to emphasized. Use “and” instead of “but” so nothing is dismissed. For example:

  • I agree George Floyd had a criminal past and I think you’d agree he didn’t deserve to die over a fake $20 bill.
  • I agree violence at protests is sometimes a problem and I think you’d agree we don’t want to silence protesters just because some people get violent.
  • I agree most cops are good people and I think you’d agree we need reform to weed out the bad ones for everyone’s sake.

When it comes to influencing others never lose sight of your goal then ask yourself the best way to achieve it. A shift from “but” to “and” might get you one step closer to your goal.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was name one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority! His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 100,000 people around the world!


2 replies
  1. Sajal
    Sajal says:

    I really enjoyed going through your posts, especially the valuable actionable steps provided in the end.
    This is a great insight into how, by a slight tweak from but to and, we can steer the conversation from being a potential argument to more of a mature discussion.


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