Why we need to stop saying “Yes, But…”

No doubt, you will have been at the receiving end of a “yes, but” and know how frustrating it can feel.

When you are sharing your own personal experience, one that is yours and only yours, one that might be exceptionally painful and emotive and someone dives in with a ‘yes, but’ which, wipes out, negates and invalidates your experience in less that 60 seconds.


I learnt very early on in both my counselling and NLP training about the importance of language and listening. Two massive missing factors when dealing with a ‘yes, but’ person.

In order to understand and empathise, first we have to listen and use language that validates their experience.

Invalidation of experiences to groups of people happens especially when talking about minority groups, parenting choices,  sexuality, disability, abuse, gender and A LOT with race. Race in particular is an emotive subject that ignites a lot of guilt.

“Yes, buts” often happen on the defence, when someone feels challenged or under attack often without even realising it.

A “yes, but”,  happened to me twice last week. Both times when I was talking about race.

It can also happen when I deliver training around diversity, inclusion and race perception. One example in particular that springs to mind, I was sharing my experience with racism as a child and the residue that it left into adulthood.

It happened again last week when this video was shared on my page. A thought-provoking advert by Procter & Gamble to get people to start talking about race, privilege, bias and the continued impact. With a view to raise awareness and encourage people to start having conversations they don’t want to have about the reality of race inequality in black culture to help move society forward.

Yes, but… It’s not only black people who have experienced racism you know, I’ve experienced racism too.

This is the response I get on many occasions.

Whilst the point may of course be valid in another linear, you can see in an instance a form of deflection from the content being discussed, the experience shifts from the storyteller, to their own experience.

The Trouble with Yes, But…

  • When you ‘Yes, but’, you have already stopped listening.


  • When you “Yes, but” you are making an experience, about you and not the storyteller. You are not them. Your experiences will not be the same and that is ok. But someone sharing their story and experience especially if they are in a minority group, does not mean that their experience is wrong, it’s just not yours.


  • When you ‘Yes, but’ you dismiss.

A good example of mass; ‘yes, but’… take the, often referred to as controversial, ‘black lives matter’ movement. Some people started to feel agitated by the movement, saying ‘ALL lives matter’. Well of course all lives matter – but the reason the ‘black lives matter’ movement started was because of the growing poor race relations in America and disproportionate treatment, brutality and unlawful killings by police in black communities over any other.

The movement challenged the disparity in the criminal justice system as a result of racial bias and protested for equality. It’s unthinkable that this happens, for most it is hard to believe that this IS a reality for some communities, but it happens. Not just in the US.

That’s what the focus is on with the BLM movement, so in the same way a ‘yes, but’ creeps in, by saying ‘all lives matter’ –  it dismisses and in fact moves the attention away from the very reason why they were protesting in the first place. This movement is a great example and reminder that striving for equality for one group of people, does not and should not mean inequality for another.

To Conclude

SO to round-up, when you ‘yes, but’ you invalidate, you question fact, you question truth and history and perhaps unintentionally, you disrespect.

Recognise when it is appropriate to challenge thinking and have a debate based around a theory or current affairs (in keeping with the linear), rather than someones own personal experience. Or fact-based evidence in our history. And even then, think about your language and how when being on the receiving end of how ‘Yes, but’ makes you feel.

Try using language to help you get your message across without appearing like you are holding a grudge or being defensive.  This is really helpful when dealing with emotive subject matters.

For example:  “I am wondering if”…. “have you ever considered” or try replacing but with “and” instead and see how that feels different as both the giver and the receiver. Or perhaps simply just listen.

Try to exercise flexibility with your own thoughts and behaviour.

Recognise what the power and the potential harm your ‘Yes, but’ can do, in an instant and instead, understand, empathise and most importantly respect our experiences and beliefs are all different, recognise others experience might trigger some strong reactions or emotions in you and that is normal, try to recognise that although it might feel personal, it is not about you.

The Talent

Header Image: Roberta Facchini Photography

1 Comment

  • Reply Joyce Connor August 8, 2017 at 9:26 pm

    Brilliant post Nova. Hearing the yes, but is something that is very frustrating. When people don’t get it they try and make excuses. There is no yes, but. There is only oh I didn’t know that or understand it. Thanks for writing this post. I hope lots of people read it and see why they shouldn’t say it! X

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