Three little words to improve your communication
According to the Oxford English dictionary, there are 171,476 words in use in the English language today. Estimates of how many words an average adult would know and use vary, but seem to be typically about 12,000. William Shakespeare had a vocabulary of about 30,000 – a record.
With all those words to choose from, we could be forgiven for being a bit casual about which ones we use. In particular, it may be beneficial for you to start paying attention to the very little words that you use every day, in speech, in text and in email. As a NLP coach, I have learned the importance of certain words, both in terms of the limits they can put on people and their potential to shift beliefs and attitudes.
'But' me no buts
One of these words is 'but'. I think it can be one of the most dangerous words to use! That may sound extreme, and you might want to consider this.
You may remember from your school grammar lessons that the word 'but' is a conjunction. It is one of several words which are used to join two phrases together. It is often used to allow two complete sentences to become one. It qualifies the first half of a sentence by providing some new information, or alternative that tends to update your experience. For example:
'He climbed for hours, but he didn't reach the summit.'
Harmless enough, you would think.
Or is it?
Using the word 'but' in conversation has a tendency to imply that anything that came before the 'but' is unimportant and can be dismissed, or even forgotten.
Let's try out a few example sentences:
'That was good work, but there is still a lot to do' – belittles the 'good' part of what is done and makes the job ahead seem harder.
'I love you, but I'm not in love with you' – a hard sentence to hear for anybody, and look at how insignificant the words 'I love you' have become by using the word 'but' immediately afterwards.
That doesn't mean the word 'but' should never be used, though. Sometimes it is just a case of saying things the right way around:
'There is still a lot to do, but that was good work'.
'I'm not in love with you, but I love you.'
Do you think these feel better? If you are giving someone feedback, it can help to put the bad stuff first, followed by 'but', and then add the positive stuff. There are even better ways in some cases...
'And' the winner is...
Another conjunction, while we're on the subject, is the word 'and'.
Again this word seems, and is, largely harmless. It is perhaps overused by some. You may have met people who continually add 'and' to a list of demands until you have completely lost track of the whole conversation.
In general though, the word 'and' enables you to hold on to the message of both the phrases in the sentence.
'I have really enjoyed this conversation and I would like to talk to you again soon.'
Look again at the sentences I gave above in my discussion of the word 'but'. You can often substitute the word 'and' for 'but'. This is an effective way of ensuring that both parts of the sentence have significance. This way neither is forgotten or dismissed.
'That was good work and there is still a lot to do'
'I love you and I'm not in love with you'
Personally, I try to use 'and' much more than 'but' when I talk to people. It is a safer choice. At the same time there may well be times when you want people to ignore the first part of the sentence, so 'but' has its place.
'The cabbage was a bit salty, but the beef was amazing!
Coaching with 'yet'
I guess the most common time you would use the word 'yet' would be in terms of a failure to complete something:
I haven't done my homework yet.
Aren't you ready for bed yet?
Surprisingly then, the real magic of this word is in its power to motivate!
Inside the word 'yet' is a subtle assumption; what Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) experts call a 'presupposition'. When we say 'yet', we imply that the thing will definitely happen in the future. In the preceding sentences, what is implied is that you 'will' do your homework eventually, or you 'will' be ready for bed eventually.
So to get the best out of this tiny time-bomb of a word you need to keep it in the back of your head and roll it out anytime someone, including you, is experiencing defeat, being stuck or a failure.
'I haven't made it to the top of my career 'yet'.
'You haven't overcome your phobia 'yet'
These sentence structures allow for a future where things are better. They are implying or presupposing that these things 'will' happen eventually. They remind you that it is usually not too late to change and that sometimes things happen in steps, rather than as a result of a single action or behaviour.
You can strengthen the message even more with an 'and' – 'and when you do, how will that feel?'
The power of language to change us is incredible. Knowing what we do about these three little words, who knows what can be achieved with the other 171,473?