McLeod column: Conquering ‘Yes, but…’

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 11, 2011

As the cameras zoomed in, he started to squirm. When they cut to the close up, his entire head looked like it was about to explode.
He had come on the Dr. Phil show because he wanted to repair his marriage in the aftermath of his affair.
But with his personal life displayed out on national television, he did what any normal person would do. He got defensive, and he developed a bad case of the ěYes buts.î
ěYes, butî is a frequent default response that wreaks havoc on our personal and professional relationships.
We use it when we want the other person to know that we heard what they said, but we donít totally agree with it.
For example:
ěYes, I did that, but you did this.î
ěYes, the IT project is important, but operations is still our top priority.î
The ěbutî negates whatever precedes it.
In the case of the Dr. Phil couple, I have no doubt that the poor husband was terrified. What man in his right mind enjoys hearing his wife talk about his failings? On TV. With Dr. Phil.
He clearly regretted the affair. He had come back to his family; he had tried to make amends. Yet the wife was having a hard time letting go of it.
As she reiterated the obviously well-trod ground of ěYou don’t know how much you hurt me,î the husband looked contrite for a while. But he eventually got frustrated, saying, ěYes, but it happened over a year ago. Canít we just put it behind us and move on?î
Enter Dr. Phil, who wisely told the man, ěA woman can’t move on until she feels heard.î
I hate to break it to you: Itís not just women, and itís not just personal relationships.
Iíve seen similar scenarios play out in business settings, parent-teacher conferences, and on the world stage. Iíve watched executives’ failure to validate each other provoke such anger that business meetings threatened to come to blows.
The longer people feel unheard, the more angry and emotional they get.
Nothing improved for the Dr. Phil couple until the courageous husband (with Dr. Philís coaching) was able to say, ěIt must have felt like I had stomped on your heart.î
In that one marriage-changing moment, the wife finally felt heard. The tension left her body, she exhaled in relief, and just like that, poof, the self-erected barrier of anger was gone.
Itís a dramatic example of how quickly you can change the energy of a conflict or disagreement by simply validating the other personís perspective.
You donít have to agree with them, just demonstrate that you heard and understand.
The magic word here ó AND.
Yes, the IT project is important, AND operations is also a top priority.
It helps if you really mean it, but this is one of those instances where faking it until you make it really does work.
If you replace ěYes, but,î with ěYes, and,î youíll see a big difference in the way your conversations play out.
Hereís the bottom line: The other person’s thoughts, needs, goals and emotions arenít going to go away. You can try to understand their perspective, or you can try to blow past it.
ěYes, butî leaves the other side feeling hurt and angry.
ěYes, andî validates their perspective and makes them feel heard.
Which one do you think is more effective?
Excerpted from ěThe Triangle of Truth: The Surprisingly Simple Secret To Resolving Conflicts Large And Smallî (Penguin).
Lisa Earle McLeod is the President of McLeod & More, Inc. an international training and consulting firm and author of The Triangle of Truth: The Surprisingly Simple Secret To Resolving Conflicts Large and Small (Penguin 2010).