Removing Overused Words From Collaborative Discussions

I was involved in a great discussion on the weekend about two words that never help in conversations.

‘Actually’ and ‘but’

Sometimes you may find yourself in a good situation to use these “blocking” keywords, but far too often, they are abused as implicit “no, you’re wrong” statements. These words stop innovative, flowing conversations and turn them into a debate.

An alternative that I will be trying hard to use is “and.” Please post a comment if you have one you could recommend.

9 Replies to “Removing Overused Words From Collaborative Discussions”

  1. A good technique I have used in the past is based on Edward de Bono’s 6 thinking hats

    Basically you ask everyone to think of negatives for the decision, list them all out on cards. The important thing is that even the advocates have to think of negatives.

    Similarly everyone has to come up with positives for each of the alternatives. Again even the nay-sayers are expected to come up with positives.

    You can also add the other hats if you like – white hat (facts) is often a good one. That gives you things like “Only one person knows this technology” etc.

    This process gives a structure to a decision and gets the arguments out on the table – rather then the rounds of “i think we should…” and “…but…”. When all this is done you can have a much more reasoned discussion weighing the benefits of the alternatives.

  2. … and I realised that I answered a different question to the one you actually asked – so much for active listening 🙂 Unless you count black, yellow, white etc. as alternatives to ‘actually’ and ‘but’ 🙂

  3. That’s exactly something I’ve been focussing on in the Agile Software devt meets Improvised Comedy workshops that I’ve been running. The concept is that performing without a script is like developing without a BUFD. Success comes from people co-operating where the outcome of their interaction is something neither of them could have planned in advance.

    In the workshop we talk about “blocking” and how that is an attempt to gain control. To get away from blocking we emphasise “offering” and “accepting”. We do this both physically and verbally. One of the verbal games we play is called “Yes and”. The idea is that somebody makes a statement “It’s hot today”. This is an offer and simple one too,which is the best kind of offer. The partner’s goal is to accept that (by saying Yes) and extend it (by adding “and I’m heading for the beach”). Each extension or addition should be a small step from the previous statement. The goal is not to be original or creative individually – you should try and say something simple and obvious. The conversation can ping-pong between a pair, or round in a circle with each person accepting the previous comment with a YES and advancing the story with an “and…” until there’s nowhere left to go. The outcome is a story that’s truly shared because nobody can direct it anymore than anyone else and nobody can block anyone elses ideas. The power of “Yes and..” is that originality and creativity is a byproduct and created by the team and not one individual.

    The point of these exercises is to show how we block and control and how there are ways to deal with that. But I’ve always thought you could explicitly use “Yes and..” in a meeting or workshop session where the goal was brainstorming and collaboration. Explain to the participants what the rationale is and see what comes from it. I also think it’s a great way of building trust and rapport between people which is valuable in any consulting engagement.

  4. I like “however” as an alternative to “but”. It’s less abrupt and gutteral.
    However, it starts to feel wrong if you have more than one in a paragraph 🙂

  5. I found your workshop very enlightening. The “Yes and” stuff seemed immediately applicable to many situations. Although in a real world situation “Yes and” is not always a viable option, it is at least possible to opt for as many “Yes and” type responses as possible within the current context.

  6. Also highly suspicious and not to be used:

    “In fact…”
    “Very”/”extremely”/etc. (It’s an extrememly good thing)

    Adjectives in general are highly suspect. Try to find verbs and adverbs instead.

    Also jargon:

    “Instantiate” (used in reference to anything but code) is one of the worst.

  7. Thanks everyone for your feedback. I like the number of suggestions.

    I’m definitely going to have to try the “Yes and” approach to see what reaction I get.

    I might try the however as well, but even that is in the spirit of disagreement, so I will be minimising its use.

  8. I like “what if?”.

    There’s a hidden “but” at the beginning, but because it’s posed as a question, you’re implicitly asking for collaboration and putting your idea up beside the preceding one for consideration, rather than superceding it.

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