Rack is the Co-Founder of Beyond Civility and the retired Chief Circuit Mediator at the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Consider this: Use “and” rather than “but” when responding to a statement you only partly agree with. “But” is a conversation stopper: “I understand your point, but….” Everything that follows is heard as negative, a rebuttal to whatever positive or engaging statement preceded it.
Deborah Tannen, respected professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, describes America’s “argument culture” in which the need to win, to be right or to have our beliefs confirmed creates resistance to acknowledging the value of differing opinions. Ironically, such reluctance can be self-defeating since humans rarely change their minds when challenged with arguments or even contradictory facts. Open minded consideration seems to come only in the safe space of friendship and dialogue that is genuinely seeking understanding.
Using the conjunctive “and” in place of the disjunctive “but” helps create that kind of space. “I understand your point, and….” With their message acknowledged, a dialogue partner is invited to participate in further clarification. Trust and mutual understanding can grow and with it the potential for comprehensive problem solving.
Imagine, for example: “I agree there are many people who cannot work and would suffer without public support, and I believe there are others who are not trying to work while living on unemployment benefits. What might a policy look like that incorporates both of these truths?”
Deliberately choosing the more inclusive “and” over the polarizing “but” helps reshape our own mindset and invites constructive dialogue rather than argument.