Getting out of the 'yes, but' habit

Almost all of us have been in a situation, a meeting, or conversation where we have a 180-degree opposite opinion of a matter that is being discussed. The two ends of the spectrum that often apply are fight or flight:

  • Flight — Just shut down and move into that good old passive/aggressive mode.
  • Fight — Get into the ring with all your aggressiveness and really let the other person know where you stand and how you feel.

Rather than gravitating to either of these two extremes, the best suggestion is to be assertive.

Most of us appreciate boldness and confidence as long as it is communicated with sensitivity. Many personal and professional success stories are the result of an individual or group of individuals assertively pressing on. Yet there seems to be misconceptions about assertiveness versus aggressiveness or passivity. Assertive behavior has been defined as standing up for yourself in such a way that it does not violate the basic rights of another person. In contrast to walking all over people or being walked on by people, assertive communication is a human relations approach that combines strength and sensitivity.

Which brings us to a habit that seems to be ingrained in almost all of us — the “yes, but” habit. Here is how the habit works when confronted by an opposing point of view.

  • Someone states an opinion that we absolutely disagree with.
  • We say “yes, but …”
  • As soon as the “but” is out, either the other person gets into the ring and the games begin (fight) or they just shut down (flight).

Rather that that approach, try this three-step process:

  1. CUSHION your responses to soften the remark.
  2. Follow the cushion with “AND,” not “but.”
  3. Follow that with EVIDENCE to back up your own opinion.



All a cushion does in this process is to soften the response by saying, “I hear you.” It does not agree or disagree. It is said with empathy. It is not said with negative tones or negative body language, which would totally negate the empathy. Then the “and” follows. By saying “and” it keeps a conversation — not a confrontation — in play. Finally, rather than just blowing off steam, follow that with strong evidence that backs up your opinion. Let’s look at an example:

Person A: We really need to cut the marketing budget next quarter by at least 25%.

Person B: I understand that last quarter’s results did not meet our goal (CUSHION), AND with the new data and testing we have done in the last two weeks, I firmly believe that we will meet or exceed goals next quarter (EVIDENCE). Let’s take a look at that data.

We all ingrained habits, and the “yes, but” habit is one that many of us share. This statement has been backed up in hundreds — if not thousands — of classroom experiences over the course of the years as we have done real-world role-playing with our participants. Instead of continuing to “yes, but” your way through communication, separate yourself from the pack and follow the assertive three-step process above to get to better, mutual conclusions.

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