one word that limits effectiveness
Words have power.  Lots of power.  Sometimes, it only takes one word to shut someone down, have them discount your feedback and make you powerless as a leader.


Even in well-meaning hands, it is a weapon waiting to launch.  It is a chisel, chipping away at confidence, one word at a time.


Eradicates everything before it.  Imagine for a moment how you’d feel if someone said to you “You’ve done an amazing job on this project.”  Now imagine it again “You’ve done an amazing job on this project, but…”

It doesn’t matter what comes after.  The good feeling and warmth that came with the compliment is suddenly replaced with the cold of its absence.

You don’t even have to hear what comes after, and may not.  It’s entirely possible that you’ve shut down at that point, so all the good feeling, and even the possibility of constructive, useful feedback, is lost.

Whether it’s a compliment or support of an idea, using BUT means giving with the left hand and taking away with the right.

As leaders, we need to remove it from our vocabulary.

Instead, use declarative language.  “I like your idea.”  Period.  Indicate what you like about it – where there is promise.  It demonstrates that you were paying attention to the individual and/or their performance, and balances any subsequent feedback.

No idea or effort is perfect.  Before offering criticism or poking holes, however, ask yourself one question:

Is the feedback – the BUT – worth it?  

Is the idea good enough to move forward?  Are there gaping holes that need to be addressed to get it to actionable?  If this was a project or similar effort, is the feedback necessary for the individual’s development?  If the answer is “no” – save it.  Just say “good job” and move on.

Keep the BUT for those areas where it matters.

Assuming the feedback is worth it, there are ways to go about offering it.  Is this an idea that needs some refinement?  Rather than spit out what’s missing, ask questions to see if your concerns have been considered.  “I have a question regarding a point you made.”

When it comes to performance, the individual may be fully aware of what could have been done better.  Solicit his or her input.  “A best practice at the end of projects is to reflect on what went well and where we have opportunity to improve.  What would you share about this project that can be used on the next one?”

When you ask questions and get an individual to tell you what could be better or fill in the blanks, they own and can embrace the feedback.

What if it’s not quite what you were thinking?  What if the individual isn’t grasping your concerns or seeing challenges you think need to be understood and corrected?

“That is valuable insight that will be great to share with our other project teams.  I’ve been thinking about our opportunities as well.  I wasn’t in the middle of things like you were, so I have a different perspective that I’d like to share with you.”

That sounds an awful lot like feedback that might offer something the individual couldn’t see for themselves.  It doesn’t take away from what’s been done, instead it adds to it.  An outside view they couldn’t possibly have, so it’s not perceived as a failure from the outset.

Context can go a long way to helping set the tone for how feedback will be received.

Great leaders develop their people.  They provide constructive feedback and positive reinforcement…in a way that can be embraced and owned by the individuals receiving it.

By making declarative statements about what’s good and asking questions to unearth what could be improved, leaders can be more effective in their people development.  No BUT’s about it.


What other words tear down? What words do you think build up? I’d love to hear your ideas and feedback in the comments.  Let’s keep the conversation going.