I get what you're saying, but you sound like a douchebag

This is largely a re-write of an article that I read last year but cannot find anywhere. It will have been written by someone really smart like Ben Casnocha, Seth Roberts, Justin Wehr, Robin Hanson, Tyler Cowan or The Last Psychiatrist ... but I can't find it. And it needs to be online.

At a design firm you talk a lot about communicating clearly. This goes against most business communication where relationships and value are often built on obfuscating information, managing egos and pandering to hierarchy and expertise.

Problem is, we're not good at hiding the truth. This is probably why most people complain about their boss, their clients, their suppliers and their colleagues. We all know what everyone thinks but no one is saying it clearly.

The but-head

n. the section of a sentence before a 'but'. Used so that you you feel better and the listener feels worse.

We're all dicks on the job sometimes but it's nice when we stop pretending that we're not. Here are some examples of the but-head in action:

I'm sorry but, we're going to go with Speights as the beer sponsor for the event because it's the best.

You're not sorry - that would imply regret. But you don't regret what you're doing so don't say it. It's actually quite cool when you step up and make a decisions by the way

Your ideas are really valuable to us and you definitely have the experience in this area but we're going to release the application only on Windows Phone 7 Series because it's the future.

This is even worse because you're pretending to compliment someone before you insult them. Really you're just insulting them and aren't even being honest about it. That but-head was just so you could feel better about yourself - that feeling won't last.

"Don't take this the wrong way, but your idea is a bit immature"

Sometimes you specifically intend to hurt or offend someone with your comment, but use the but-head as if it is some kind of free pass. This but-head makes it their fault if they're offended. By giving yourself the free pass you have a license to be more offensive than you would normally be. This is a dick move.

Look how much less offensive it becomes if you drop it.

"I don't think your idea will work. This is why..."

That's respectful.

"I don't mean to be rude, but..."
"I don't want to be hurtful, but..."

All of these use the but-head to telegraph that your agenda really is to be rude and hurtful. Talking straight about what we think and why is better for the listener. More than that though, it's recognising that the main audience for that sentence is you - so that you can feel better about what you're saying. One more.

"You're obviously the expert on this matter, but..."

This is usually followed by a statement about how you know better. It's condescending and contradictory - you also likely have a good reason to disagree so just say it.

Taking this crap out of your sentences does wonders for your communication - people will respect you for saying what you mean. You'll also think more before you say things that, if you were honest about them, you might not be willing to say.

Bottom line: We need to stop pussyfooting around what we mean and we need to be excellent to each other more.


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