leadership

The two words that will stop any conversation in its tracks

Eloise Keating /

Starting sentences with the words “no” or “but” is a surefire way to put an end to any productive conversation, according to leadership coach and author Marshall Goldsmith.

Read more: Six effective ways to have that difficult conversation at work

In an article on LinkedIn, Goldsmith says using one of these two words, or both, at the start of a sentence automatically tells the person you are speaking with you believe they are wrong – regardless of the tone you use.

“These words don’t say, ‘Let’s discuss this’ or ‘I’d love to hear what you think about this’ to people,” Goldsmith says.

“They say, unequivocally, ‘You are wrong and I am right’.

“If your conversation companion is also dedicated to his need to win at any cost, you will have a potential battle on your hands. The result? Nothing more can happen that will be productive.”

According to Goldsmith, these words are regularly heard in workplaces and most people would be shocked if them kept track of how frequently they are spoken.

“And, if you drill a little deeper, you’ll see patterns emerge,” he says.

“For instance, some people use these words to gain power. You’ll see how much people resent it, consciously or not, and how it stifles rather than opens up discussions.”

But Goldsmith says leaders must consider not only how often those around them are using these words, but how frequently the words come out of their own mouths.

“Stop trying to defend your position and start monitoring how many times you begin remarks with ‘no’ or ‘but’,” he says.

Goldsmith also recommends paying attention to where the words “no” and “but” are placed within a sentence too.

For example, using the words “that’s true, but” tells the other person you don’t really think their statement is true. Likewise, saying “yes, but” sends the message that the other person should be prepared to be contradicted.

“Along with self-monitoring your behaviour, you can easily monetise the solution to this annoying behaviour to help yourself stop,” he says.

“Ask a friend or colleague to charge you money every time you say ‘no’ or ‘but’. Once you appreciate how guilty you’ve been, maybe then you’ll begin to change your ‘winning’ ways.”

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Eloise Keating

Eloise Keating is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Eloise was news editor at Books+Publishing, the trade press for the Australian book industry.

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