Yes but …

yes but

What happens when you respond with “yes, but…”?

You know when you get into conversation with someone about an emotive subject, and you’ve said your piece, and someone then says “yes, but….”? You know you are likely to be contradicted. 

And it’s all too easy to almost immediately – even if sub-consciously – to go into defence mode.

It doesn’t matter whether this is a debate with friends, complaining to a supplier, or simply discussing your wish list for your next holiday with your partner, “yes, but” has the same impact.

And it can have the same impact on your colleagues, your team and your customers. 

Earlier this month I was conducting some training on handling poor performance, for a team of junior managers. We got to talking about the language we use, and how much of a bearing that can have on the outcome of performance discussions.

It’s not an unusual reaction when one of your team makes an excuse, or request that you think is unreasonable, to listen patiently, but then respond with “yes, but…”.

Or in meetings with colleagues, when you’re not sure you buy into a suggestion, or when you have a different view or perspective.

Or when faced with a complaint – particularly when you believe it’s unjustified, or it’s not your fault.

Of course, as soon as the team member, colleague or customer hears those words, “yes, but…” they know they are likely to be contradicted, or not get what they want, and it’s easy for them to get on their defence.

So, here are 2 alternatives:

1. The But Flip

This is when you still use the word but, but you flip the structure of the sentence. So, instead of saying “I’d really like to help you with this, but it’s out of my control”, this becomes “It’s out of my control, but I’d really like to help you with this”.

What’s the difference? The first version ends the conversation, whilst the second version makes a natural transition into looking for a solution.

In essence, what you’re doing is telling the team member, colleague or customer what you can’t do first, but then what you can do.

2. Yes, and…

In this instance you are replacing the word but with the word and. (Many people are tempted to use the word however, however… if you’re anything like me when I hear the word however I still know is going to be bad news!)

Yes, but is confrontational and doesn’t get you any further forward, whereas yes, and keeps the conversation positive, and shows you are listening.

Proving the point

Here’s a fun exercise you can use with your team which demonstrates the impact of yes, but and yes, and, whilst giving them an opportunity to practise the technique.

It’s based on improvisation, which means there are no scripts and participants don’t know what they’ll say until they’ve heard the other person. To be successful they have to be present, listen carefully, and contribute freely.

These skills are obviously valuable in a customer service environment, in which adaptability is crucial.

The “Yes, and…” story telling exercise can be carried out by two people or more.

One person starts with one sentence of a story, and the next person builds on that, either bouncing back and forth between two people or circling around in a larger group.

You can take the story in any direction, as long as it builds on top of the previous sentence with a “yes, and…”

It works best with a few simple rules:

  • Don’t deny or contradict
  • Don’t ask open ended questions
  • You don’t have to be funny
  • You can look good by making your partner look good
  • Tell a story

Besides the fun of seeing the story go in the strangest directions, this exercise reinforces a few crucial customer service skills.

One is listening skills. You have to build upon what was said last. Many people – particularly when under pressure – are so focused on what they want to say whilst the other person is talking, they miss half of what’s being said.

It also teaches flexibility. Instead of going against what’s been said, the aim is to build on top of it.

So, set your team a challenge to switch to the but flip or but, and

if you only do one thing: Start with yourself and see how many times you can catch yourself saying “yes, but…” and switch that to the but flip, or “yes, and…

Here’s a short video demonstrating the yes and game: 


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