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I don’t like big “Buts” and I cannot lie

Posted by: Joyce Matthews   |   No Comments   |  Posted on: Jun 19, 2014

buts are for kickingUnlike the infamous song, I don’t like big ‘Buts’ and I cannot lie. Unless you are Kim Kardashian, then as a school leader there are not many ways that big “Buts” can work in your favour.

What’s my definition of a big ‘But’? One that has a capital letter and starts a sentence or one that follows “Yes” at the start of a sentence. You know the ones, don’t you, they sound like, “Yes…………but”.

It’s a short two word phrase that gets you feeling all excited; you’ve just contributed something of worth to a conversation, you’re just starting to glow with warmth and pride, when suddenly you are taken out by that sniper called ‘But’. Shot down in flames, knocked off your perch, had the stuffing punched out of you (how many metaphors can I fit into one sentence?). And that’s the thing about a big ‘But’, whether it follows a ‘Yes’ or starts the sentence (where are the grammar police when you need them), they’re good for nothing but kicking. They kick your contribution to the conversation right where it hurts, having the effect of negating everything you have just verbalized. And that doesn’t feel very nice, does it? It doesn’t make us feel as if we want to get involved in conversations, or give our opinion or share our ideas, if all we are going to get is a kicking. It’s not likely to make your staff feel very safe, is it? Let alone, inspired or motivated.

So look out for the effect of big “Buts” in your school and see if you can start a trend for “Yes, and” instead. It’s a subtle and effective way to accept every offer in a conversation, and although you may not agree, it means you can validate the speaker’s contribution first before adding yours. It’s a way of giving credit and respect to the speaker to maintain an equal conversation rather than the type of lop-sided conversation that sounds like,

“I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m big and you’re small, and there’s nothing you can do about it”. (Bring back memories? It’s from Matilda by Roald Dahl)

It’s also a tool to help you to listen to what the speaker has to say rather than listening to respond; if you are going to accept every offer then you have to listen to know what it is. Imagine how this might also change your thinking; listening to accept the offer and the information and thoughts provided by your colleagues rather than listening to find a gap, to push in a speedy retort or to show off how much you know. Listening to accept can actually give you more time and means you don’t have to get flustered by planning your answers in your head before you say them. You know what that feels like don’t you? When you run through what you are going to say, and start to get red from the neck up, with sweaty palms and a racing heart, just waiting for the right moment to launch yourself from a height into the conversation? Imagine how much more relaxed you would be if you didn’t have to worry about sounding knowledgeable and powerful; If you didn’t have to worry about getting your two pennies worth in? Imagine how relaxing it would feel, not to have to worry about saying the right thing at the right time?

Well,  guess what? Relaxed and calm is catching – remember what we said earlier about breathing? If your breathing slows down, then the other people in the room are more likely to follow you, and isn’t calm a much safer and more productive place to be? A place where you staff are more likely to feel safe, valued, supported and listened to? A place where you can collaborate and share and even  inspire each other? A place where you might even start to enjoy meetings – imagine that?

‘Yes, and’ – try it out and see what the difference is – see how many more contributions you get to staff meetings, how many more ideas you get in planning meetings, how much more talkative your staff become in general, how you feel when you say it, how it affects your thinking process, and what you learn. They have a saying in improv. “Everything is an offer” – what would happen if you stopped kicking ‘Buts’ and accepted these offers?

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