Opinion: I Don't Want Your But

By Erin Bothwell | September 11, 2017 11:50am

Erin Bothwell
by Brennan Robinson / The Beacon

I don’t want your but. I don’t want to hear it. As the King of the North once said, “Everything before ‘but’ is horseshit.”   Yet, despite Jon Snow/Ned Stark’s wisdom, many people use one formula for criticism/bad news: “compliment + but + thing they are actually trying to say.” 

If you have a real critique, say it. Don’t try to dance around it or throw out a compliment as a flashy distraction from what you’re really trying to say. Don’t bury the lede

Example, imagine if your mom said, “Hey your hair looks really great today...” Aw, you think to yourself, that’s nice. Moms are great. “But,” Your mom continues, “you are my least favorite child.” Wait- what? 

Combining a compliment and a criticism doesn’t make you more polite. It splits your listener’s attention between the compliment and the criticism, and leaves her wondering which one she should take to heart. 

Criticism doesn’t have to be rude or offensive. It can be (“Take that butt-ugly hat off before I scream.”), but it doesn’t have to be (“I find that neon colors do not compliment your olive skin tone. I believe headwear in primary colors would be more suitable for your complexion.”).  

A critique isn’t a gross thing that needs sugar to season it. Sure, it can taste a little sour sometimes, but we get used to it. 

A good critique will often carry you farther than a sweet compliment. Criticism is usually the thing that happens before improvement. Compliments create continuity or nurture consistency. So if you want someone to change or grow, criticism is the best tool in your arsenal. 

I recommend divorcing your sentences. Separate the pre-but clause from the post-but clause. Make them two separate statements, and say them at different times. Instead of “I love you, but you are a pain in the butt,” try a simple “I love you”. Period. End of sentence. No but involved. Separate sentence: You are a pain in the butt. 

Turn the old formula on its head. Deliver a criticism. Wait a few hours for it to simmer. Present a compliment if egos were injured, or if it just feels right. And voila, you don’t need your “but” crutch anymore.