Exclude the “But”
Ask some leaders to describe the last time they said, “Thank you,” and you’ll hear crickets or excuses.
- “They know I appreciate their work.”
- “I don’t want people to feel they’ve arrived.”
- “I can’t honor people for one thing and correct them for another.”
- “I don’t like saying, ‘Thank you.’”
Reluctance to express gratitude, give recognition, and show honor is evidence the great battles are within.
An exploration with my wife:
My wife and I explored how affirmations feel. She spoke an affirmation to me and I told her how it felt. You might try this at work or home. It’s fun. And no, it’s not a lame technique to manipulate someone into saying good things about you.
“Thank you for taking care of our family,” felt better than, “Thank you for cleaning the gutters.”
Attaching purpose to affirmation gives it power.
I found that I like to hear two words. “You’re awesome.” It’s not simply, “You did an awesome job,” it’s “You’re awesome.”
The truth is I’m awesome once in a while and not so awesome most of the time. She could say, “You’re awesome, BUT you’re not THAT awesome.”
“But” is an eraser.
Exclude the “but”:
Discomfort with affirmation causes leaders to make exclusions.
- “You did a great job. BUT there’s more to do.”
- “You’re awesome. BUT you’re not that awesome.”
- “You performed well. BUT don’t slip back into bad habits.”
Give affirmations and walk away. There’s always a “BUT”. Save the “BUT” for later.
Affirmation is foundation:
Gratitude, recognition, and honor lay the foundation for performance conversations. Apart from affirmation, performance conversations are beat-downs.
Affirm behaviors and attitudes you want repeated. Don’t simply honor people when they complete tasks. Honor the initiative, creativity and hard work it takes to get stuff done.
What prevents leaders from practicing the soft stuff of leadership?
What types of affirmations work best?
This is excellent, Dan! I would also submit that it is something leaders have to be very intentional about or they will fail to do it. The drive that makes us good leaders can prevent us from taking the time or adopting the right mindset to do this.
Thanks Michael. It’s interesting how you tie drive with a reluctance to affirm. I think you’re right. We don’t want to affirm anything less than perfect. We don’t want people to think imperfection is acceptable. hmmm….
Being intentional might mean putting a daily gratitude walk-about on the calendar. 🙂
Give a compliment not a complibut.
Yep that but does get in the way. I tend to expect a but (depending on the person) and you are right everything after that is all I remember. How about saying I wonder if? You did good and I wonder if you will keep doing it. hmm sounds like a but.
Thanks Walt. It seems we’re accustomed to hearing the but.
An “I wonder if…” feels like a but. the thing that makes the most sense to me is separating an affirmation conversation from correction or challenge.
Having said that, relationship matters. When relationships are strong, you could give an affirmation and say, “I bet you can do even better next time.” However, that won’t work if that’s what we do every time.
The point of separating affirmation from correction or challenge is to let people know their work matters and they matter. If you ask me, that’s a good thing.
Oh and thank you for being awesome.
LOL…thanks Walt. I’ve told the story of riding in the car and testing out different affirmations with my wife. I get a lot of “you’re awesomes” after that. Maybe it’s just a cheap manipulation. I’m fishing for compliments. 😉
This article is one of your best! Excellent! Awesome! Thank you!
Thank you Lisa.
“Attaching purpose to affirmation gives it power.” Now THAT’S a powerful statement. Thank you for always leaving me with something to think about.
Thanks Kristin. I’m glad that works for you. It takes some work to get into the swing of attaching purpose to affirmation, but it’s worth it.
While I have worked within my department for more than a decade I just recently accepted the position of chief geologist. I say thank you to my people often but I wondered if there was a way to do a bit more to show them that I appreciated them. I invited everyone to meet me at the local coffee shop about 20 minutes before an off-site meeting and we all ordered something yummy to drink and we just chilled for a while before we moved on with our day. While we were there I thanked them for being awesome at work. This was the first time a chief had ever done this for our group and I have to say it was a bit uncomfortable at first BUT (sorry, I had to!) by the time we were done everyone was relaxed and enjoying themselves. It was a great start to a new ‘thank you’ tradition!
Thanks for a great story Annie. I bet your team is glad you pushed through your discomfort to try something new. As they say, “The soft stuff is the hard stuff.” Best wishes for the future.
Oh, and congratulations on your promotion!
Hi Dan and all,
I love this topic and the comments too! Most of the emails I send and receive start with ‘thank you for your information’. ‘Thank you for your comments’ ‘Thank you for your input’. It doesn’t seem strange at all. The notion of ‘we pay them to work’ or ‘why do we have to thank people for doing their jobs’ isn’t a great starting place to grow confident teams.
We do experience semi annual ‘Thank you for your effort, we have a lot of work to do but…’ speeches which seem as if management is trying to be responsible in reminding us we’re not done. It’s not as great as an off-the-cuff ‘You guys are awesome” would be, but I don’t think we view those trailing comments as completely nullifying the message. Maybe the smaller the audience is, the more free we can be to say what we really feel and should really say.
Thanks for providing a home for us hone our awesome, Dan
Thanks Cate. You leave a good reminder that sometimes challenge follows affirmation. That’s normal and accepted, as long as we trust each other and it’s not done every time.
Bottom line is… if someone affirms me, I want to please them and work harder. It is all for everyone’s benefit!! Being thankful and having a heart of gratitude for those around us is KEY.
Thanks Amy. It’s funny, but I like people who like me. AND, I want to do things that make them happy. hmmmm sounds like a winning formula.
Maybe we can say that happy leaders go further than sad leaders.
An interesting post with good message!
Bosses are in a habit of appreciating the work with ‘but’ usually at the time of Performance Appraisal Exercise and denying the prospects of getting deserved increments or promotion. A very disappointing way of not recognising the talent at right time. People leave the organization mainly because of such smart & cunning bosses.
We can consider this as an unprofessional talk! Bosses need to really avoid such things to keep the staff duly motivated.
Thanks Dr. Asher. Wow, good point. The ‘but’ is used to explain whey they aren’t getting a promotion or raise.
A ‘but’ is the introduction to a “YOU’RE NOT SO HOT” conversation.
It’s true that leaders have to point out poor performance. I keep coming back to the idea that we should talk more about good than bad.
Poor can be corrected, we have to help build the foundation in a constructive manner rather than ripping someone apart all the time. Educate/teach, learn/build, and grow.
I agree with “save the ‘but’ for later” AND would love to hear your ideas about how to approach it in another forum. What does ‘later’ look like?
That’s a great question Lisa. Maybe I’ll write about it later today. Thank you.
good idea. Do you wait till there is not a connection to the first conversation or will it still rob from the thank you? looking for to that subject.
Four words poor leaders are reluctant to use: ‘Thank You’ and ‘I’m Sorry.’ Not sure why.l, other than ego or a desire to hide vulnerability. Great leaders are not afraid to use those words.
Thanks Daryl. It’s interesting that leaders talk about doing hard things. Perhaps saying ‘Thank you’ and ‘I’m sorry’ are the truly hard things leaders do.
Another great post from you, Dan. My current supervisor, who manages 19 people, is adept at affirming specific accomplishments or behaviors. She might say, “Thank you for the kindness you showed to so-and-so when she was struggling with________.” It takes more time and awareness on her part, but it shows she pays attention to the myriad skills of her staff. When she needs to discuss performance issues and problems, her feedback is well-received because she does acknowledge strengths and can even suggest how the staff member might use those strengths with things that are not going well or goals not being met.
Thanks Carole. Very encouraging. It might take a little more time and attention, but this type of affirmation is still cost effective! 🙂
What prevents some leaders showing gratitude is that they don’t why they should be grateful when somebody does what they are expected and paid to do.
Thank Mitch. You’re right. Some think you shouldn’t show gratitude for something you pay for. I suppose the only thing to say to this is, “Go for it.”
Dan, I think the attitude of not thanking people sucks. But you see it all the time (see what I did there?) As my old man used to say: “Be grateful anyone’s doing it at all!”
Get your big “but” out of the way! I’m one for using AND or YET instead of BUT. Perhaps for those leaders truly struggling with their big “buts,” maybe start out with “You did an amazing job on X AND we still have a long way to go. Let’s keep up this positive momentum.” You’re the expert, and it might work. It’s a smaller shift to embrace.
Connie I love “Get your big “but” out of the way!” AND I think YET might be a BUT in disguise. Anything you add with an AND is much more inclusive and much less dismissive of your first comment than a big BUT or a YET.
That’s it. Words are so powerful. The more inclusive we can be in our speaking the more magnetic we are as leaders.
Wow! Thanks Connie. “Big but” is great. I feel like changing the title of this post!
Thank you Dan for publishing fantastic information daily. I’ve “linked” with a very high-level prospect over your posts…he shares them almost daily. I find myself trying to read it first in my email before going over to LinkedIn where he’s reposted.
We humans are funny creatures, aren’t we…fun to watch!
I like that “and we” or “and you” now to start counting (my buts) how often I use the word and start replacing it. Thanks.
“But” is an eraser. I never thought it that way. I agree with it. Time to make changes in speech!
I have one of those signs, a circle with a diagonal line through it, over the word BUT. It hangs in my office and I give it to every new supervisor or manager that I coach! I’ve made a conscious effort to use the word AND instead of but, if I have to use anything.
So, rather than, “You did that project so efficiently BUT I’d like to see you be more consistent,” I say: “You did that project so efficiently AND I’d love to see you replicate it on this one.”
The word BUT is a morale killer and the quickest and easiest way to marginalize any staff person you work with!
I can’t wait to share this post with my team!