How to Kick Your “Yes, but…”

This stealthy communication killer creeps into our day-to-day conversations, damaging our relationships and making it hard to get things done. Learn how to escape the “yes, but…” loop.

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
Episode #149

Today I’m going to cover one of the most reliable ways to get an argument going. It’s a stealthy killer phrase that creeps into our day-to-day conversations damaging our relationships and making it hard to get things done.

What is the verbal bad habit that I am referring to? It’s the “yes, but…”

For example: “I want to invest in real estate, but I just don’t have the time for it,” or “I agree it’s a great idea, but we don’t have the budget to make it happen.”

Unfortunately, once a “yes, but…” is spoken, the typical response is yet another “yes, but…” As in: “I understand we don’t have budget, but by implementing this idea it will pay for itself.” And so on.

I like to describe the “Yes, but” effect as inevitable flapping back and forth, like a fish out of water. And like the fish, the longer the situation continues the worse it becomes for everyone.

A “Yes, but…” Example

Last week I was in the orthodontist’s office with my daughter and we sat in the waiting area for quite some time. Eventually someone came out from the back rooms and told us, “Oh, you were supposed to go right back. We’ve been waiting for you.”

I complained to the woman that we had never been told previously (or at any time during this visit) that we were supposed to go to the back on our own. The orthodontist overheard me and came over. He said, “Oh, I’m sorry that happened, but that is unusual. We send out customer service surveys and most people says that they have a good experience. I’m not sure what happened with you. I know that my front desk people know what to do.”

Did you hear the two “yes, buts…” in his response? Although I knew the right way to respond, I was under stress and fell into the trap by responding with my own, “Yes, but…”

I said: “That may be true, but last time we were here we had other issues with your customer service…” As you might expect, the conversation escalated with me getting more and more agitated.

Why does that happen? Why does a volley of “yes, butting…” get us so worked up? This type of a response sends a mixed message that is difficult for our brains to process. Although we hear yes and no at the same time, we tend to focus on the second half, dismissing anything that comes before the “but.” Of course, it’s the second part that fuels conflict.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.