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The But Of An Ass
Issue #32 of The Two But Rule
The Odious But
There are times when you’re going to be presented with a perfectly good pair of buts by people you don’t like, respect or trust. (If you’re new here, be sure to check out Issue #1 for essentials on the Two But Rule.)
How do you receive input from a person you have written off as hateful? How do you deal with buts that derive from a rejected premise, or that trigger some deep sense of loathing in you?
Jeff Goldblum has a penchant for playing characters who are the wrong messenger trying to deliver the right message. He did it in Jurassic Park as the relatively unlikeable Dr. Ian Malcolm. And in the movie Independence Day, his character struggles to deliver the warning of alien attack to the US President, because the two men have a history of animosity.
Unlike in Jurassic Park, Goldblum’s character in Independence Day mends fences and transforms from the skeptic to the hero when he not only manages to identify the threat but works out a solution that delivers the movie’s admittedly implausible deus ex machina. If the Two But Rule can turn Jeff Goldblum into a hero, imagine what it can do for you.
The inherent risk of applying the Two But Rule is starting with the first but (the 1But), which people accustomed to a positivity-first approach will find to be a turn-off. And if you’ve been negative in the past, or if you’ve developed a reputation for being a skeptic, you have a messenger problem.
It may be cold comfort, but long practice of applying the Two But Rule can help. Over time, consistently presenting solutions along with your concerns, your 2Buts with your 1Buts, will help colleagues become accustomed to expecting the positive punchline and giving you room to present all your buts.
The Empathetic But
Psychologist and conflict mediator Marshall Rosenberg grew up in Detroit and was deeply influenced by living through the 1943 race riots that left thirty-four people dead and hundreds injured. He became deeply interested in how people, who he believed to be fundamentally compassionate, got to a place of anger and hatred toward each other. In his book Nonviolent Communication, A Language For Life he suggests that this arises from a failure to recognize and reflect our own needs and the needs of others. And one of the deepest, most pervasive needs we have as humans is simply the need to be heard.
By now we’ve established that the practice of Momentum Thinking starts with someone articulating their intent, then some form of, “But that won’t work,” followed by, “But it would work if …”. But Rosenberg provides a very helpful intermediate step, particularly when you aren’t in a friendly, playful environment.
Before presenting your 1But, you can summarize and reflect not only what you heard the other person propose but how you understand it as an expression of their needs. Then, when you introduce your 1But, there’s a better chance of receptivity. It can also prompt you to articulate your needs and how your issue with their idea expresses those needs.
Rosenberg’s methods, like the Two But Rule, are both simple and nuanced. They deserve a full reading on their own, but it’s easy to see how they’re consistent with the point of Momentum Thinking presented earlier:
We honor the intentions of the other person, we honor our own objections, and we seek to square them in a way that meets everyone’s needs.
When your intentions are in the right place, you can overcome interpersonal challenges and achieve momentum. And being in touch with both your needs and the needs of the person voicing issues with your idea will help you find solutions together.
Get this right, and you can dispense with tired techniques like the “positivity sandwich” for massaging feelings while delivering bad news or expressing concerns. People instinctively know that the praise you deliver before and after the negative feedback is usually as stale and soggy as two slices of Wonder bread that have been left out in the rain. But if both sender and receiver of the feedback know to expect a 2But after the 1But, you can cut to the chase and build a more authentic relationship.
The But Of An Ass
There are times when the intentions of the person presenting an idea or an obstacle may not be benign. Or you may simply not like the person. Or you just have other things to do.
If you want to maintain momentum while also not giving into what your lucid and discerning mind has labeled "bullshit," there are ways to do it. Here are a few:
“This isn't a conversation I want to have right now … BUT we could find a time later, and we should consider xyz in the meantime.”
“I think you have ulterior motives that are coloring what you just said, and I don't believe you are sincere in your exploration of the truth … BUT if you can show good faith, I can remain open.”
“Even though I believe your intentions are sincere, I don’t like working with you, BUT I know someone else who can help.”
If you get the sense that the person proposing something you object to has bad motives, swim away and reserve your buts for people focusing on solving real problems you care about. And remember--there’s nothing in the Two But Rule that says you have to accept input from the but of an ass.
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