Communications skills exercise 12: Avoiding starting responses with “No,” “But,” or “However”
[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
I’ve written a bunch of times on the exercise I made up to avoid using judgmental words, particularly good, bad, right, wrong, and evil, but also balanced, better, worse, improve, acceptable, and a bunch of others.
I’m not sure if I wrote where I got the idea from. I got the idea from another exercise as simple and surprisingly effective that I learned from Marshall Goldsmith. Reading it will seem trivial. Doing it is nothing like you expect.
The exercise is this:
Do not begin responses to people with the words “No,” “But,” or “However.”
Sound simple enough? Try it for a week. Marshall charges his client money each time he hears them say break the rule. Not a lot for his clients — maybe twenty dollars each time — but they add up.
I guarantee you of four things
- You’ll slip up
- You’ll be surprised at how much you say them, generally unconsciously
- How hard changing this habit is
- How much saying these three words affect how you listen and respond
When I have clients do it, they usually break the rule within the first few minutes, usually without realizing it.
Things you realize from this exercise
The exercise is experiential, as is what you learn from it. If you just read and think about it, you won’t get the value of it. You won’t even realize the value of it because you almost certainly underestimate how often you start responses with no, but, or however. You also almost certainly don’t realize the effort it takes to change and how deep the intent to change goes within you.
People usually say the first word they say doesn’t matter, the content that follows does. They don’t realize that the person they’re talking to doesn’t hear what you want to say. The person hears what you do say. If someone says something to you and you start your response with “but,” you just contradicted what they said.
Ever wonder why regular conversations that feel calm end up confrontational? These words contribute. People hear them and the feel confrontation.
When you don’t begin your responses to people by contradicting them, you have to listen to what they say more. When you respond to someone with no, but, or however, notice how soon you create your response. I bet it forms well before they finish what they were saying. When you don’t contradict them, you have to listen to them all the way through.
Do you prefer people to listen to you when you talk to them? Do you think people like you more or less when you don’t listen to them?
“No, I agree”
As you get used to this exercise and habitualize not contradicting people when you start talking to them, you’ll see how often others do it and cringe, like when you learn a new rule of grammar everyone breaks.
The king of all bizarre statements you’ll notice is “No, I agree.” It’s surprising how often you hear people say it, nonsensical as it is.
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