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  • Writer's pictureJerry Brook

Yes but

Surely you have heard this phrase. You’ve probably said it yourself just as often. This is, arguably, one of the most common statements in the English language.

There are many phrases like this that, when used, either cause confusion or are downright offensive when it comes right down to it. This happens to be of the latter variety.

Lost in translation or something more sinister?

People typically have a meaning in their own mind, a meaning that is often lost in translation or watered down due to such things as unclear and/or unconcise wording or phraseology.

People don’t realize that there might be more than one way to interpret their words; that there are other perspectives, that—in fact—their words could be turned completely around to mean the opposite of what was intended.

Interestingly, when these phrases are used against us, we know it intuitively. We may immediately think “that’s not right”, “something’s wrong, I just don’t know what exactly”, “I’m not comfortable with that” or “what exactly did you mean by that?”

There are people who know what they are doing and saying, and there are those who don’t. Many people use these types of simple sayings strictly as filler, not really assigning any particular meaning to them. Their purpose is nothing more insidious than to connect or to switch to the next thought or subject.

The problem is that this connection—the switch—is not consistent. In fact, it is disruptive. Disjointed. Disconnected.

How could two such simple, seemingly innocent words be so offensive?

I truly believe that people don’t actually mean to be offensive when using this idiom. This is one of the many cases when what is being said is not what was intended. However, what is intended, versus what is essentially being done, or, as it is coming across, is at odds. In this case, the outcome is more important than the intention.

Yes, but … means no

Let us consider one unconscious interpretation of “yes, but …”

“Yes, but …” translates to “no”. The yes is meant to stop you, to appease you, to make you feel like there is agreement – where there is none.

It’s a deception, a distraction, a trap that is being sprung on you. Its purpose is to get your guard down so that the attack can proceed without any resistance.

When we agree, the answer is “yes”. When we disagree, the answer is “no”. So, what is the answer when we agree with some of what was said, and we also disagree with some of what was said?

One thing is for sure, it isn’t “yes, but ...”

There are a few possible answers to this conundrum. Each depends on the situation. If you both agree and disagree, then say so. You could say “I agree with you on xyz, however, I take exception with (or I don’t agree with) abc.”

Alternately, if you agree but don’t necessarily disagree, then you might say “Let me clarify. Did you mean …” or “Help me to understand” and then restate the items in question in your own words. Or, if you aren’t sure whether you agree or disagree, you could say “I don’t have an opinion on that”, “I’ll have to think about that further”, “I’m not sure”, or “I don’t know”.

You need to be aware of the implications of this expression when used in conversation against you. Its very utterance should cause your ears to perk up, alerting you to proceed with caution.

When you hear this in conversation, you need to question the genuineness of its use. Don’t be quickly dismissive of it, don’t just assume that it is a meaningless exclamation.

There is a good possibility that it indicates that the person saying it doesn’t truly agree with you, that they are purposely misleading you and going about letting you know in an underhanded manner.

And what about when you say this, even in passing? It signals to the other party that the two of you are not in harmony with each other. There is a discrepancy, a divergence, a fracture, a disconnect between the two of you.

Even if this is not the intention—instinctively, abstractly—it is unconsciously internalized as such: We don’t agree.

And so, the gloves come off and the battle is on. The conversation can easily devolve into an aggressive, adversarial confrontation. It’s like waving a red flag at a bull. Bring it on.

Of course, not agreeing with every little thing you discuss with your friends and colleagues is natural and normal. In fact, it is important for you and for others to know whether you agree or disagree and it’s also important to understand the details of what it is that you agree and disagree on.

You can’t come to a satisfactory conclusion to a conversation without knowing either:

a. That you disagreed, or …

b. What it was that you may have disagreed about.

You can’t solve a problem if you don’t even know that you have a problem. You can’t solve a problem, if you know that there is an issue, yet you don’t know what the actual, core, issue is.

Yes, but … this week’s challenge

This week’s challenge is for you to review and evaluate your own conversations, both past, and present. Looking back, has a seemingly innocuous conversation turned challenging with the interjection of a “Yes, but …”? You seemed to be getting along so well, you were both in accord, and suddenly everything went off the rails.

Now you may have some insight as to where your conversation took that turn for the worse. Now that you know better, try to avoid using this expression and be aware when you hear it being used against you.

Good Together: your guide to healthy, happy relationships

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