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How a Yabut Can Kill a Conversation

A simple "Yabut" can control a conversation and discount a speaker.

How a 'Yabut' can kill a conversation.

We don’t have to be in the corporate boardroom or in a “think-tank “to experience the effect of a Yabut. It can rear its ugly head in a simple discussion. For example, I said to my friend, “This has been the nicest day we’ve had in a long time.” My friend, said, “Yabut, you know our weather won’t last.” His comment could effectively stop the conversation. I suspect a dialogue could have moved on if he were to have said, “Yes, and maybe we should take advantage of the day.”

Scott Cochrane of the Bold Mind Group wrote about The Attack of the Yabuts. He wrote, “Nothing sucks the blood out of a great idea faster than the dreaded ‘Yabut…’ In fact, the ‘Yabut’ may be the No. 1 killer of collaboration, cooperation, great ideas and innovation in any organization.”

Yabuts need to feel in control.

Perhaps the deepest need people have is for a sense of control. Yabuts have a strong need for control. They control by first agreeing (yes) and then disagreeing (but).

By adding the word “but” Yabuts discount everything leading up to it. For example, a Yabut can listen as I share my belief about brain damage in the NFL. I might say, “I think the NFL needs to address the problem of brain damage.” The Yabut might say, “Yes, but almost anything they do will significantly change the game.” Essentially, the “but” discounts what was said before it. The “but” keeps him in control.

Research suggests that Yabuts have a perfectionistic way of thinking. They believe there is a “right” way that things should be done. They may become frustrated when others do not see it their way. They also believe that they can’t rely on others to finish a task correctly. When given a choice they would more likely finish a task by themselves to make sure that it is done right.

Yabuts want people to know they are smart.

Yabuts need to show their intellectual prowess. One way they do it is by presenting alternative facts or sharing a new way of looking at ideas. This demonstrates their knowledge. For example, if I say, “I think one of the most important contributions made by Freud was the notion of: id, ego, and superego.” The other person might say, “Yes but, I think his three stages of child development were more important.” It isn’t so much that his comment is right or wrong but that it challenges what I said. It leaves me with the choice to argue my point, passively agree with his point, or not say anything at all. I usually don’t say anything at all which probably tells you a little bit about my personality.

How are Yabuts different from the rest of us?

On the face of it, a Yabut isn’t much different from the rest of us. We all use the term, “Yes but” in our daily conversations. There are many notions and ideas presented by colleagues and acquaintances with which I disagree and I show it by saying something like, “Yes, but we need to consider …”

The difference seems to rest on how we feel after a volley of Yabuts. When we feel agitated or when we feel discounted it is likely we are with a person who uses Yabut to control and/or demonstrate his abilities. On the other hand, when a “yes, but” builds on an idea rather than discounts an idea you probably are not with a hard-core Yabut.

Yes but or Yes and

Karen Hough, the CEO of Improv Edge, published an article entitled “Yes But, the Evil Twin to Yes And.” She writes, “A lot of people think that Yes But is the same thing as Yes And when in fact it is an ugly, nasty, evil twin to Yes And”

Saying “Ya but” is a reliable way to get an argument going. Lisa B Marshall, in The Public Speaker, wrote, “It’s a stealthy killer phrase that creeps into our day-to-day conversations damaging our relationships and making it hard to get things done.”

“Yes and” can be thought of as the opposite of “yes but.” “Yes and” can lead to a conversation whereas “yes but” can lead to an argument. “Yes and” implies an acceptance of another person’s idea with no judgmental qualifier. “Yes but” challenges a speaker’s ideas. Although we hear the words yes and as well as yes but in the same conversation we tend to focus on “yes but.” People are inclined to dismiss all that comes before the “but.” Also, many believe that saying “no” gives opinions weight.

On the face of it the word yes means you have accepted what I have said. For example, I might say “It seems more and more evident that man has influenced global warming.” A yes but response might be, “Yes, but Earth’s climate has always warmed and cooled without man’s influence.” A yes and response might be, “Yes, and it is difficult to know when man’s influence can be reversed.”

A yes and response requires the skill of empathy. We are far more conditioned to argue a point of view then expand on it. “Yes and” is a way of thinking. It opens up our mind and helps us listen empathically. “Yes and” creates a supportive environment.

The next time you are with a brainstorming group try using “yes and.” Remember, by saying yes you are accepting the reality created by another person in the group. By saying and you are expanding on that reality. “Yes and” suspends judgment.


“Yes but” suggests there is a different fact to consider. The words can discount everything that led up to it and can lead to a debate. “Those flowers are beautiful.” “Yes, but they only last two weeks.”

“Yes and” shows you agree with what someone has said, but rather than presenting a different fact you build on the words that led up to it. “Those flowers are beautiful.” “Yes, and they do best when they get plenty of water.”