Don’t Be a Yes, But-ter…

Are you a yes, but -ter? What is a yes, but?  Yes, but-ting is when you agree with what is being said, then shoot it down. Here are some examples:

  • I know I need to exercise. I just don’t have time.
  • Of course upgrading my job skills would be great, but I don’t have the money for that.
  • That sounds great in theory, but it would never work.
  • I do want to change, but how am I supposed to do that when my husband/kids/boss/roommate keeps knocking me down?
  • It would be nice if I could say no, but too many people depend on me.

Yes, but doesn’t actually have to include the words yes, but. If your words agree, then disagree, it’s a yes, but statement.

As you look at some of the examples above, they may seem like perfectly reasonable things to say. After all, we all have limited time and money. No man is an island. We all have to deal with other people. And not ideas are workable ones. Saying no is not necessarily a bad thing. What’s not effective about yes, but-ting is the energy behind it.

Yes, but can be a way of agreeing, but not agreeing. If your boyfriend says, “I said I am sorry” and you respond with, “Yes, but you still did it. You can’t take it back,” it’s like you accepted his apology and still want to punish him. It’s an emotional fake out because “but” is a disqualifier. It’s like everything that is said before doesn’t matter.

Yes, but can be a way of maintaining control or being right. For example, if I give you twenty reasons why going for a hot air balloon ride is a great idea, you can shoot it down with just one yes, but comment. Yes, but what if it rains? Yes, but it’s too expensive. Yes, but I am afraid. All it takes is one yes, but comment and you control the conversation and you are right. That can feel pretty powerful.

So, you can see why some people make this a habit! It’s a way of staying safe, not doing what you don’t want to do, and keeping the control. What could be the downside? The downside is that it’s shuts down creativity, emotional connection, and growth! That’s a huge trade off.

Let’s say that as I review my schedule, I really don’t see a lot of time for exercise. Instead of shutting the idea down right there, I can get creative. I think about how other people fit it in and other activities that I haven’t considered before. If you practice this thinking in your mind, you may feel the openness there that isn’t there when you do a yes, but. If you are doing it with other people, you may feel a sense of inclusiveness that comes from accepting ideas rather than shutting them down. This leaves you will a happier feeling inside, more ideas, and usually better solutions. It all comes from your mindset.

So, if yes, but isn’t a great idea, what do you do instead? First, why not just pause and reflect. Consider the request. What are your emotions around this? What are the facts? Do you need more information? What are the implications of each choice? Giving yourself a chance to consider your answer usually leaves the other person feeling that the decision is important to you. Giving yourself the time to think about it can lead to a choice that you might not have made if pressed to give a snap decision.

If the answer is no, say no. You don’t have to sugar coat it, shut other people’s ideas down, or explain. Just say no. This is more direct and doesn’t leave open the impression that you are open to debating the subject.

Another thing you can do is say yes, and. “It would be nice if I could say no, and too many people depend on me” is a completely different feeling from “It would be nice if I could say no, but too many people depend on me.” The first invites brainstorming so that you can say no  in a way that considers the demands of other people. The second shuts down the possibility of being able to say no.

Words are powerful. They are reflections of our inner state. They have energy that can open things up or shut things down. If your words are not working for you, think about changing them – especially if they are a habit. Unhealthy habits keep us stuck. Adopting a yes, and attitude can help us to grow.


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