Category Archives: Communication

Reverse Your But

If you ever want to start an argument with one word use this one, “No.”

If you ever want to start an argument with two words use these, “Yes, but…”

Even more importantly how often do you hear yourself use the phrase “Yes, but…” either out loud, or in your head?

At the first serious counseling training I ever did there was a participant who went around the whole time saying the word “Tub” as people were speaking with her.

It turned out that she had to say “Tub” quite a lot.

When we asked her what she was doing she said she was reversing the ‘but’ every time someone said it, because it is such a toxic word.

I agreed with her intention, and hey, the message has stuck with me for almost a decade so she was doing something right. But she also came across as annoying, which suited her fine, however many other people would prefer to use something else.

Don’t get me wrong. ‘But’ is an entirely valid word with a useful purpose. I used it the sentence just before, along with however, and I wouldn’t bother using anything else in that context.

Keep using ‘but’ in your life, and when you are ready for an alternative here are a couple you can test for yourself.

However unlike the participant in the counseling course, don’t totally dismiss the value of the word ‘but’ because it has a valid place in your life.

Here are my two suggestions.

First option – change words.

Exchange ‘But’ for the word ‘And’.

So instead of “Yes, but…”, say “Yes, and…”

Among other good things this change will force you to make sense of how both options can be simultaneously true, which is a useful beginning for any negotiation of choices.

If you don’t explain the ‘And’, a sentence can be left hanging like this one…

“You want me to take these pills, AND I’m allergic to them.”

If you stop at this point and don’t clarify what you mean, the person may assume you actually meant to say ‘But’, thus negating the advantage of the word ‘And’.

Alternatively the person could find a new way to make sense of this sentence, and this can be a very good breakthrough.

A second option – change sequence.

Reverse the usual “Yes, but…” to “…, but yes, …”

This change often stops you from sounding like you are making excuses.

You go from “I’d love to come, but I’m busy” which sounds like an excuse, to “I’m busy, but I’d love to come,”

This exposes the excuse and now requires you to clarify whether ‘I’d love to come’ actually means you will turn up.

If you need more help to say honestly what you mean, then you might want to avoid this second option until I get to the topic of assertiveness.

But on the other hand, don’t bother. Give both these options a test today.

-Dr Martin Russell

Television Un-Reality

TV has a lot to answer for, particularly in terms of therapy.

Television has been blamed for 101 problems in the world, and I’d like to add a few more.

For example, was there ever any likelihood of one of the characters in Seinfeld changing when they went to counselling?

What would have happened to the show if their fears, social skills, neuroses, or quirks had been turned into something more functional in general society?

There is a cynical line about therapy, that people go to therapy not to be cured of their problems, but to perfect them.

Well on TV they go to therapy to find new and more extreme ways to dramatize their problems.

But this isn’t even my main concern about TV.

The fact that TV is poor at representing therapy and counselling is no surprise.

After all, it is equally bad at representing most areas of real life.

At least there are more toilets in TV homes these days than the constipated lot of previous eras.

No, the real problem is more insidious.

It’s the mangling of social communication and interaction skills.

Here’s what I mean.

Actors are acting.

They are not exhibiting real human body language, real human speech patterns, or real intonations in their voices.

And yet we watch them in more closely examined detail than many people in our day to day lives.

How well can our brains distinguish the mismatch between acting and reality?

Just take for example watching someone on a TV show telling a lie. As we watch and try to work out the plot and decide if they are lying or not, we are trying to read confusing signals. They are all acting, so they are all lying!


Is the solution to watch less TV and get more human interaction?


Or is the solution to make sure we know how to use different communication skills for our day to day lives, than we do for TV?

And how might we know when we can trust that we’re successfully noticing these distinctions?

Ah, forget it. Let’s just watch ‘reality’ TV shows instead.

-Dr Martin W. Russell