Resilience Tip - Shifting from "But" to "And"


Resilience is the ability to cope well with difficulties and to bounce back from setbacks

While some people are naturally more resilient than others, resiliency can also be intentionally developed.

Shifting from "But" to "And"

There are several common tendencies we humans have that constrict rather than expand our thinking. One of these is the tendency to respond to another person's communication with "but, ...". If you remember, we humans tend to be judgers, judging most things that we hear as good or bad, right or wrong, ok or not ok. And we tend to listen to others with an ear toward either confirming or denying what we already believe to be true. (As is typically the case, some have this tendency much less than others, and some have consciously worked to shift this tendency; and, for almost all of us, these patterns will continue to surface at times, particularly during times of fatigue or stress.) So, as judgers, confirmers, and deniers, we frequently respond to others in sentences beginning with "but". (If you are skeptical about this, listen for the frequency of this word in the conversations around you.)

To respond resiliently we want to stay curious and think flexibly. Beginning a sentence with "but" tends to narrow thinking to a right or wrong discussion. Instead, try beginning your response with "and". First, beginning with "and" forces us to listen more carefully to what the other person is communicating (already a bonus in improving your communications and relationships!). Frequently when we begin with "but" we have picked up on a part of the other's communication that we want to respond to, but have not listened to the entire communication - and truly listening to the entire communication may in fact change the way we wish to respond. Secondly, beginning with "and" vs. "but" tends to reduce the defensiveness of the other person, allowing for a more fruitful discussion. Thirdly, beginning with "and" forces us to stretch our thinking muscles more, how to include both the other person's thoughts and our own thoughts; activating our curiosity and expanding our thinking.

Suppose you are in a team meeting. A colleague suggests spicing up a presentation by adding some flashy graphics. You are not thrilled with the idea, and have been thinking about adding some movie clips. You could say: "But movie clips are being more commonly used now to liven presentations."  Or you could say: "I like the idea of making the presentation more lively, and maybe by adding relevant movie clips we could both wake people up and bring home our message better." The other person thus feels more heard and more acknolwedged for her ideas, and so is typically more motivated to continue to engage in the discussion. Or, suppose you are going out with a friend for dinner. He wants to go to the same Italian restaurant you always go to. You could say: But we always go there, let's try something new." Or, "Italian sounds great, and there's a new Italian place not far from here, how about trying that instead?"

Starting your response with "and" instead of "but" may not always be appropriate. And, try increasing its use and check the results.

Carolyn S. Tal, PhD
Psychologist and Consultant
Working with individuals and partners developing resilience and related issues