Why You Should Avoid Using 'But' In Compliments

by Darrell Griffin

The Impact Of Language On Communication And Relationships

The impact of language on communication and relationships is profound and multifaceted. Within the rich tapestry of human interaction, the words we choose are not merely vessels for our thoughts; they are powerful tools that can either build or erode the foundations of our relationships. This is particularly evident in the way compliments are framed, especially when the conjunction 'but' is employed, subtly shifting a message’s tone and implication. [Sources: 0, 1, 2]

"BUT" changes the entire tone of a compliment.

Language, in its essence, is more than a medium for conveying information; it shapes our reality, influences perceptions, and colors interpersonal dynamics. When we communicate, especially in expressing appreciation or admiration towards others, how we phrase our sentiments can significantly affect the receiver's perception of our intentions. A compliment intended to uplift can easily morph into a backhanded remark with the insertion of 'but,' suggesting that there's a caveat to every positive observation made. [Sources: 1, 3, 4]

This subtle transition does not go unnoticed on an emotional level. The word 'but' serves as a pivot that often negates or diminishes what precedes it, placing emphasis instead on what follows. Such structuring can lead to mixed messages being sent and received. On one hand, there's an acknowledgment or praise; on the other hand, there’s criticism or reservation attached to it. [Sources: 5, 6, 7]

This dichotomy can leave recipients feeling confused about their standing or worth in the eyes of the speaker. [Sources: 8]

Moreover, frequent use of 'but' in compliments can erode trust within relationships over time. It might lead individuals to question the sincerity behind any form of praise coming from someone who habitually qualifies their compliments in such a manner. The cumulative effect could be detrimental: individuals may become guarded or less open to interactions fearing subsequent undercuts to their achievements or characteristics. [Sources: 9, 10, 11]

In fostering healthy communication and nurturing positive relationships, paying attention to language nuances becomes crucial—recognizing not just what we say but how we say it matters immensely. Striving for unambiguous communication by avoiding qualifiers like 'but' in compliments ensures that positive reinforcement remains undiluted and genuine appreciation shines through clearly. [Sources: 1, 12]

Thusly understanding and respecting language's power enables us to cultivate deeper connections with those around us—connections based on clear communication free from unintended implications that might otherwise sow seeds of doubt or insecurity within interpersonal landscapes. [Sources: 1]

Using Positive Reinforcement Instead Of 'But' In Feedback

The use of "but" in delivering compliments or feedback is a common practice, yet it often undermines the message's positivity, casting a shadow over what was initially intended as praise. The word "but" serves as a pivot, diverting attention from the compliment to criticism, which can diminish the recipient's sense of achievement and motivation. In contrast, employing positive reinforcement instead of "but" when providing feedback can significantly amplify its effectiveness, fostering an environment of encouragement and growth. Our personal conversations often contain too many buts (equivocations) [Sources: 13, 14, 15]

Positive reinforcement focuses on what someone has done well without immediately counterbalancing it with critique. This approach not only acknowledges achievements but also encourages more of the desired behavior by making individuals feel valued and understood. When feedback is given in this manner, it creates a strong foundation for learning and development because recipients are more open to receiving information when they feel positive about the interaction. [Sources: 16, 17, 18]

To implement this strategy effectively, one might begin by offering specific praise that highlights what was done exceptionally well. This specificity ensures that the recipient understands exactly what actions were beneficial and should be repeated in the future. Following this acknowledgment with constructive suggestions for improvement—without using "but"—can guide individuals towards better outcomes while maintaining their confidence and self-esteem. [Sources: 15, 19, 20]

For example, instead of saying, "Your gardening was very thorough, but you missed a few places," one could say, "Your gardening was great this week; I appreciated how you took care of those sprinklers without asking. Next time could start making sure we are getting the right sprinkler coverage in the back." This method separates positive feedback from constructive advice without negating either component. [Sources: 21, 22]

Additionally, focusing on future opportunities rather than past mistakes directs attention towards growth and learning rather than failure. It encourages a forward-thinking mindset that is more conducive to personal and professional development. [Sources: 18, 23]

Replacing "but" with positive reinforcement techniques transforms feedback from potentially discouraging remarks into empowering guidance. By consciously adopting this approach, leaders can create a more supportive environment that motivates individuals to strive for excellence while feeling valued and respected. Ultimately, such an atmosphere not only enhances individual performance but also contributes to building stronger relationships based on mutual respect and constructive communication. [Sources: 20, 24, 25]

Empathy And Understanding: The Key To Constructive Criticism

Empathy and understanding are the cornerstones upon which effective communication is built, especially when it comes to offering criticism or feedback. When we critique someone's actions or behavior, our words have the power to either foster growth or cause defensiveness and resentment. This is where the art of constructive criticism comes into play, demanding a delicate balance between honesty and compassion. [Sources: 20, 26, 27]

Avoiding the word "but" in compliments is not just about semantics; it's about nurturing a supportive environment where feedback can be received in the spirit it's intended. [Sources: 28]

To understand why empathy plays such a pivotal role in this process, we must first acknowledge that criticism, even when constructive, can be hard to swallow. It naturally elicits a defensive response—a psychological mechanism designed to protect our self-esteem. However, when criticism is framed with genuine understanding and concern for the recipient's feelings, it can significantly reduce this instinctive pushback. Empathy involves putting ourselves in the other person's shoes, appreciating their perspective and emotional state before delivering our message. [Sources: 22, 29, 30, 31]

Using "but" in compliments typically undercuts the positive feedback you're trying to convey. It acts as a negation of everything said before it, leaving only room for focusing on what comes after—usually perceived as negative commentary. This approach can inadvertently signal that you're more interested in highlighting flaws than acknowledging strengths. On the contrary, separating compliments from critiques allows each to stand on its own merit, making it easier for individuals to digest your feedback without feeling attacked or devalued. [Sources: 9, 18, 32]

Understanding emerges as another critical component in this equation by guiding us towards more thoughtful communication strategies. Recognizing someone’s efforts or intentions before jumping into what could have been better demonstrates respect for their hard work and acknowledges their potential for improvement. It sends a message that your critique stems from a desire to support their growth rather than tearing them down. [Sources: 2, 33, 34]

By marrying empathy with understanding, we create an environment where constructive criticism can flourish—one where individuals feel seen and supported rather than judged and criticized. In doing so, we encourage open-mindedness towards personal development and foster stronger relationships built on mutual respect and genuine care for one another’s progression. [Sources: 18, 35]

Building Self-Esteem Through Supportive Language And Encouragement

In the realm of interpersonal communication, the words we choose and how we string them together can significantly impact the self-esteem and confidence of those around us. When it comes to offering compliments or positive feedback, the intention is typically to uplift or encourage another person. However, even with good intentions, certain linguistic habits can inadvertently undermine this goal. One such habit is the use of the word "but" in compliments. [Sources: 1, 36, 37, 38]

Understanding why this undermines positive intentions and exploring alternative ways of building self-esteem through supportive language and encouragement is crucial. [Sources: 39]


[0]: https://www.languagesunlimited.com/breaking-barriers-the-power-of-language-in-cross-cultural-communication/


[1]: https://fastercapital.com/topics/how-language-shapes-respectful-communication.html   

[2]: https://www.thesaurus.com/e/ways-to-say/how-to-compliment-tips-examples/  

[3]: https://theeuropeentrepreneur.com/the-simple-power-of-communicating-with-kindness/   

[4]: https://www.mequilibrium.com/resources/10-phrases-to-stop-saying-at-work/   

[5]: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-we-should-stop-using-word-feedback-situations-barland   

[6]: https://milnepublishing.geneseo.edu/interpersonalcommunication/chapter/2/   

[7]: https://www.artofmanliness.com/character/etiquette/how-to-avoid-giving-a-backhanded-compliment/   

[8]: https://www.graygroupintl.com/blog/constructive-criticism   

[9]: https://www.marriage.com/advice/relationship/critical-spouse-signs/   

[10]: https://jamesclear.com/say-thank-you   

[11]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-esteem   

[12]: https://leaders.com/articles/leadership/words-of-affirmation/   

[13]: https://www.performyard.com/articles/compliment-sandwich   

[14]: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-at-any-age/201305/9-types-of-compliments-and-why-they-work-or-not   

[15]: https://mybrightwheel.com/blog/effective-praise

[16]: https://trainingindustry.com/articles/leadership/positive-reinforcement-in-the-workplace/

[17]: https://untappedlearning.com/positive-reinforcement/

[18]: https://humaans.io/hr-glossary/constructive-criticism

[19]: https://www.terryberry.com/gb/blog/constructive-feedback-examples/

[20]: https://www.personatalent.com/leadership/how-to-give-constructive-feedback

[21]: https://www.topresume.com/career-advice/how-constructive-criticism-can-supercharge-your-job-search-and-career

[22]: https://www.remotely.works/blog/how-to-provide-constructive-feedback-to-a-engineering-manager

[23]: https://www.personatalent.com/development/how-to-be-receptive-to-feedback

[24]: https://matterapp.com/blog/the-primary-difference-between-constructive-feedback-and-destructive-feedback-is

[25]: https://changeyourlifeforever.co.uk/blog/kindness/be-kind/the-power-of-kindness-building-relationships-boosting-well-being-and-creating-a-compassionate-society/

[26]: https://www.shiftbase.com/glossary/constructive-criticism

[27]: https://learnexus.com/blog/constructive-criticism-definition-and-examples-explored/

[28]: https://everydayspeech.com/sel-implementation/boosting-self-esteem-and-confidence-engaging-in-the-giving-compliments-activity/

[29]: https://www.seek.com.au/career-advice/article/constructive-criticism-how-to-give-and-receive-feedback

[30]: https://experteditor.com.au/blog/people-who-lack-emotional-intelligence-react-in-these-ways-to-constructive-criticism/

[31]: https://www.zellalife.com/blog/constructive-criticism/

[32]: https://jacobian.org/2021/may/12/praise-vs-positive-feedback/

[33]: https://www.graygroupintl.com/blog/interpersonal-communication

[34]: https://fastercapital.com/topics/giving-constructive-criticism-with-empathy.html

[35]: https://biglifejournal.com/blogs/blog/key-strategies-teach-children-empathy

[36]: https://sparkbox.com/foundry/how_to_give_constructive_feedback

[37]: https://pressbooks.lib.jmu.edu/communicationintherealworldjmu/chapter/verbal-communication/

[38]: https://www.childrensdayton.org/the-hub/self-confidence-starts-here-importance-learning-accept-compliments-oosblog

[39]: https://www.crystalmindcounseling.com/blog/therapy-activities-for-self-esteem

[40]: https://www.zippia.com/advice/constructive-criticism/

[41]: https://www.kindmindpsych.com/the-gift-of-feedback-how-embracing-constructive-criticism-enhances-mental-health/

[42]: https://rcademy.com/developing-effective-feedback-and-constructive-criticism-skills/

[43]: https://www.mentalhelp.net/blogs/150-self-affirmations-and-daily-words-of-affirmation/

[44]: https://www.performyard.com/articles/performance-review-example-phrases-comments

[45]: https://therapybrands.com/blog/how-to-help-clients-build-self-esteem/

[46]: https://therapy-central.com/2023/11/14/how-to-help-someone-with-low-self-esteem-empathy-support-guide/

[47]: https://madeyousmileback.com/mistake-kindness-for-weakness-understanding-the-strength-of-compassion/

[48]: https://medium.com/lampshade-of-illumination/building-self-confidence-through-positive-body-language-c9db3e1a869f

[49]: https://embracingyoutherapy.com/learn-how-your-love-language-influences-your-communication-style/

[50]: https://fastercapital.com/content/Kindness--Kindness-Unleashed--Nurturing-Relationships-with-Curtesy.html

[51]: https://blog.hubspot.com/service/email-phrases

[52]: https://www.wellspacepdx.com/post/hard-to-accept-a-compliment-here-are-some-reasons-why

[53]: https://boo.world/resources/power-of-kindness


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