In the last few years, I have been working on a shift to replace the word “but” with the word “and.” It sounds like such a small change, but and it can make a huge difference in how you approach life. Compare these two sentences, and their underlying tone:
- I’d love to help with the project, but I’m too busy. (My answer is no. Go away.)
- I’d love to help with your project, and I’m too busy. (Hmmm, I really am too busy, aren’t I? How could I re-prioritize so that I have more time to spend doing what I want to do?)
The word “but” shuts down my thinking, and it becomes much harder to look at alternatives. Using “and” lets me look at my objection not as an impediment but simply the current state of affairs. “I would love to help. I’m too busy [to help with your project].”
Expressing it this way makes it clear that I have a choice. I can change how my time is being spent so that I can help on the project. Alternatively, I can recognize that I do not want (or don’t want to figure out how) to change how I spend my time in order to accommodate the project. If the latter is the case, then a more positive and productive response to the request might be “My schedule is really full right now with commitments I’ve already made. Would you like to set up a time when we can meet and brainstorm for an hour about your project?” Just like that, I have shifted from an unequivocal NO to wondering how I could help while keeping my time for other priorities.