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But....

January 8, 2020  | 
Young female patient talking with therapist in office about mental problems and worries, counseling psychology concept

{4 minutes to read} When I’m being mindful of what I’m saying, I can stop myself from using the word “but” after I’ve just apologized to someone. I recognize how off-putting that can be to the person to whom I’ve just apologized, and that it effectively negates everything that I said before the but.

When I really don’t believe I’m at fault, though, I may very well end up with an apology followed by “but I didn’t mean to do that because of......” Then I belatedly realize that I gave a non-apology apology and if I really intended to apologize, I will need to do it all over again — without any excuses.

So, I know from my own experience that it’s very hard to avoid using but, especially when strong emotions are at play. It’s a word that comes so naturally when you feel threatened and defensive.

I also know from my professional experience that when a client uses but in mediation, what is said after the but is all that the other person focuses on. That one little word can not only obliterate what had been previously said, but if you use but regularly, the other person may not even listen to what you say initially in anticipation of the but.

By way of example, I had a client recently who attempted to take responsibility for past behavior that she knew was hurtful to her partner. I could see that her partner was receptive to the words being said and his eyes began to show understanding. Then, came the but followed by an excuse for the behavior for which she was apologizing. At that point, the partner reacted even more negatively than before the apology. It would have been more productive had she not said anything at all.

The better approach — if you sincerely intend to apologize — is to just stop after the apology. If you can’t do that, then consider whether you are truly ready to apologize.

The danger of but in mediation isn’t limited to non-apologies for past behavior. It can also serve as an excuse for future behavior, as in “I agree that it would be good for our daughter to join the dance club, but I can’t afford it.” A better approach in mediation would be “I agree that it would be good for our daughter to join the dance club. Now, how can we pay for it?

  • It’s not off-putting. 
  • It can lead to discussion. 
  • It very well may result in both of you acknowledging that it’s not affordable right now without resenting one another.

Eliminating the use of but can be a tall order, so a first step can be to recognize it in retrospect when you think about how a past conversation went. If it makes sense, you can try a redo, and if not, you can learn from it. Being in the moment and conscious of what you’re saying takes practice, and you will find that it is well worth the effort.  

Clare Piro Attorney and Mediator

Attorney & Mediator
500 Mamaroneck Avenue | Suite 320
Harrison, NY 10528
Tel: 914.946.0848

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