Advanced Communication Skills Series Posted by David McDermott

Most of us will be familiar with the retort used by Little Britain’s ill-educated teenager Vicky Pollard. The phrase has been voted the funniest ever television catchphrase in a poll by OnePoll.

The reality is that it is also one of the most aggravating turn of phrases we can use in a conversation and yet most of us will use the term, “Yes but…” on a daily basis without realizing it.

Why is that? How can one small ‘yes but’ derail a whole conversation, often creating anger, defensiveness and irritation in the process?

It’s because “YES, BUT” really means “NO”. Psychological research has discovered that we are conditioned to say, “No” and that we say it more often as we get older. “Yes, but” at an unconscious level is a more acceptable way of saying no. As a result, it becomes an instant signal that you are in disagreement and serves to shut down another person’s suggestion, rather than exploring a way forward.


If you want to try something different, the term, “YES, AND…” creates significantly more collaborative working environments. It helps others feel heard, valued and appreciated if their ideas are received with, “YES, AND let’s also think about why it didn’t work before …” (which builds on a conversation) instead of, “YES, BUT we tried that before and it didn’t work” (which shuts down a conversation).

This is even more important in difficult conversations where there is an element of conflict. Here, negative emotions are likely to run high so it is even more important to avoid triggering unnecessary defensiveness in the other person. As soon as we start “YES, BUTTING” our way through a conversation, the other person tends to stop listening and think about their counter-argument instead of reflecting on your (perhaps valid) point.

At edoMidas we have developed the “Yes, and…” concept into a language pattern that enables you to show empathy and ensure that your point of view is listened to. At the same time, the other person feels better understood and is likely much more open to continued, fruitful dialogue. We refer to this language pattern as ‘The Empathy Frame’.  Below is an extract from a critical conversation where Jane is speaking to a team member who has been very negative about doing some extra work:


John: Who on earth thinks up these changes? They just create more work and confusion.


Jane: They’ve come from the regulators.


John: That explains it.  They’ve never done the job and just end up causing stress for us all.


Jane: Yes, I appreciate they aren’t the easiest changes to implement, AND, from our client’s point view, it’s important we can keep more accurate reports.


Remember “BUT” negates, “AND” connects.  The empathy frame has been proven to significantly improve the quality of communication, especially in critical conversations or tough negotiations where there is more scope for conflict.

Yes, we agree, it’s not easy to change the habit of a lifetime AND (not but!) at the same time, those who can deal with conflict effectively will get more positive results.

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