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Give praise with no “if, and or but” attached. This is a piece advice I’ve been coming across a lot these days, and just like the latest information on process-based praise, it makes sense to me, for both adults and children. Who wants to hear a compliment with something negative tacked on to the end?
“Your room looks great; if only you would clean it more often!”
“I’m glad your homework is finally done, but you should have started it sooner.”
Not only do these “ifs” and “buts” take away from the praise, they usually falls on deaf, or resentful, ears. When someone thinks they are being praised, only to realize they’re being criticized, they probably won’t be very perceptive of the criticism, no matter how constructive it may be.
When A But Is Necessary
Sometimes, though, you have to have a “but” – like when my husband stops and picks up something for the kids, but what he buys is totally, completely the wrong thing. I want to let him know that I appreciate his thoughtfulness, but it also makes sense to let him know for next time what we actually need.
Which sounds better, “Thanks for buying snacks for the kids, but these are the kind they don’t like” or “These are actually the kind they don’t eat, but thanks for thinking of us, honey!”? Somehow, following the “but”with a positive comment seems to soften the “bad” news. It’s as easy as reversing what you have to say. When you really have to stick a “but” in there (and many times, we really, really don’t), let the “but” introduce the thankful part of your response, ending your comment on a sweet note.
“The baby actually wears size four diapers, but that was thoughtful of you to pick some up on your way home.”
“I don’t drink coffee, but I can’t believe you thought to bring me some back from your break! That alone made my day.”
Better yet, knock the “but” out completely – “We don’t use our shirts to clean up spills. Thank you for helping! I appreciate it. Let’s put this in the laundry and I’ll show you where the rags are for next time.”
And yes, stuff like that happens in my house all the time.
Thinking Before Speaking
Try it. If you feel like you really need an addendum on a compliment (and only because it is useful and truly called for, not because you feel a burning desire to add it!), reverse the order. Save the best for last. Because really, it’s not just about the “ifs” and “buts”.
It’s about paying attention to our speech to others, our tone, our reason for speaking, and the language choices we use. About allowing others to be praised and appreciated more, with no selfish motives attached. When we are conscious of generating more positive conversations with the people in our lives, we are not only better received, we make constructive and positive interaction a good habit for ourselves. No if, and or but about it.