What Does “But” Really Mean?

As I coach writers and consultants with their various businesses, I hear a lot of “but”s. “But, I can’t offer that product or service.” Or, “But, I can’t write an article in a day.” Or, “But, I don’t know enough to do that.”

The “buts” prevent people from experimenting. What prevents us from experimentation? Often, some sort of fear.

Sometimes, the fear is about our current mental models. We think the world works in one way. We get to a point where we either challenge our mental models to change or we retreat to what is comfortable.

(In the Satir Change Model, this is the state of finding the transforming idea or returning to Old Status Quo. Just because we discovered the transforming idea does not mean we adopt that idea.)

One of the people in my consulting cohort said, “But, I don’t need to offer my custom workshops. Everyone’s taking certification workshops, anyway.”

I said, “How well do the cert workshops meet your clients’ needs?”

Not that well, he admitted.

“So, if you could sell the workshops to a client, they would be better off?”

Oh yes.

Many of the “but” reasons might be a combination of “I don’t know how” or “I can’t believe the world can work another way.”

I experience the fears in two ways: both having to admit I don’t know how to do something, and how to start if the world is different. I practice both of these ideas: how to start when I don’t know, and how to challenge my mental models.

That’s why I use two ideas to transform my “buts” into “ands”: Rule Transformations and the Rule of Three. (I’ll use a consulting example here. You’ll need to adjust this example to your context.) This consultant didn’t have a rule problem. He had a mental model problem—he could not imagine his clients would buy non-certification workshops.

We discussed the possible ideas in this Rule of Three:

  • I can offer alternative workshops.
  • I can offer workshops when my clients don’t need certifications.
  • I can offer better workshops because I can customize my workshops to what my clients need and want.

As we spoke, he realized that offering non-cert workshops might be an ideal way to set his business apart from the crowd. He went from thinking “but I can’t offer workshops” to “I can offer these workshops to highlight my unique strengths.”

We killed those “buts.” (fist pump!) The consultant had moved to “Yes, And,…

The Rule of Three might help you recognize a transforming idea. When I use the Rule of Three, I realize I not only have alternatives, I see how to take that first step.

In this case, the consultant asked the client what outcomes the client wanted. When we focus on outcomes, we often discover the problem is not where the client thinks the problem is. The client explained the problems. The consultant then explained why a short non-certification workshop was ideal for that particular problem.

We are human. We often suffer from FEAR (Fear Expressed As Reality). I find that the Rule of Three helps me move past that FEAR. I can eliminate my “buts.”

That’s the question this week: What does “But” really mean?

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