Weekly Impact is written for leaders by our Executive Director, Garth Jestley, who has decades of experience in senior leadership roles in the financial services sector. Each week he will share insights on life, leadership and faith.
Early in my business career, I became sensitive to the use and power of the word “but.” I don’t know whether “the rule of but” applies in other languages. However, in the English language, I learned to focus on the thought following the “but” rather than the one preceding it.
In fact, whether in business or in life generally, the words preceding the “but” are almost invariably an attempt to distract. In essence, the preamble is a “head fake.” It is common to toss in some obvious generalization or politically correct observation before the “but.” Having covered all the bases, the communicator then makes his or her real point.
To illustrate, here are two sentences containing the same data:
1. This particular investment is very risky and one should invest knowing they could lose their entire investment BUT I believe that this opportunity affords superb prospective returns.
2. This particular investment opportunity affords superb prospective returns BUT I believe it is very risky and one should invest knowing they could lose their entire investment.
The second thought bears the full weight of the sentence and is likely to be the one upon which the listener focuses. The typical salesman much prefers sentence 1, the typical actuary, sentence 2!
Sentence 1 reminds me of those ads for prescription drugs that seem to dominate the airwaves these days. In the ad, the company opens with a pitch followed by a very long list of things that could go wrong usually including various severe symptoms and even death! The commercial ends with shots of smiling drug consumers enjoying happy times. There is an implicit “but” between the list of risks and the upbeat note on which the ad ends.
Nothing someone says before the word ‘but’ really counts. ~George RR Martin
In summary, “but” is almost invariably used to signal that the following message is the one the communicator wishes the other party to get. In the Bible, there are hundreds of passages in which Jesus used “but” to highlight his instructions for us humans. Here are just a couple of the many that are particularly relevant to me as a businessman:
BUT store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:20)
BUT seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)
Here are two different thoughts incorporating “but.” To which do you relate?
1. I intend to explore the spiritual dimension of life at some point BUT at this time I am comfortable that, in light of my good conduct and the principle of fairness, I am going to heaven (if it exists)!
2. I am comfortable that, in light of my good conduct and the principle of fairness, I am going to heaven (if it exists) BUT I intend to explore the spiritual dimension of life at this time because I don’t know what the future holds!
Whichever way you related, we invite you to explore the relevance of faith in God in your professional and personal life in one of our marketplace leader peer groups.
Garth Jestley is a husband, father, grandfather, leader and business executive. Most importantly, he is a follower of Jesus Christ.