Mar 22, 2013 - Social Studies    4 Comments

Just Stop: Friday Night Lists

It’s been a bad week in the media for people sensitive to trigger issues. Rape, consent, racism, intolerance, and general lack of humanheartedness abound, and with them the traveling herds of trolls who flock to such ripe feeding grounds from their mountain bridges.

In my assumed role as a sherpa through the treacherous territory of social sensitivity and awareness of others’ boundaries, I’m offering this Friday Night List. If you feel a “but” coming on at the end of these sentences, do not say whatever you were about to–you’ll only end up making someone mad.


(No Buts About It.)

“I’m not a racist.”

“We can all agree that bullying is never okay.”

“I’m not trying to be insulting.”

“Rape is rape.”

“We shouldn’t make light of a serious crime.”

“That looks great.”

“I appreciate your hard work.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t say this out loud.”

“No offense.”

“I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone.”

“Hey, baby.”

“I’m sure this was your best effort.”

“You have a wonderful, energetic child.”

“It’s not my cup of tea.”

“I understand you’re strapped for cash.”

“That must be hard for you.”

“I can’t imagine what it’s like to be you.”

“I appreciate how busy you are.”

“I don’t want to cross any boundaries.”

“Hitler/Idi Amin/Chairman Mao/Darth Vader was a bad man.”

“You may not want to hear this.”

“I shouldn’t have to say this.”



  • Agreed on all counts.

  • I agree on most points and get where you’re going with this, but some of these are appropriate ways to begin a conversation about things that need improvement. I’ve often heard advice that negative feedback should be wrapped in positive feedback.

    “I appreciate your hard work, but we’ve clearly identified what you’ve been working on as low priority. I need you to refocus on the user stories that are prioritized for this sprint. Your work on the phlogiston subroutine is really good though, and we’ll definitely look really hard at prioritizing it higher in an upcoming sprint so we can finish it. “

    • I totally get what you’re saying, but… 🙂
      My point with those is that it feels much better for the recipient to receive that kind of statement without any qualifications before moving on to what needs work. In the activism world, we often use what’s called a “praise sandwich” or a “plus delta plus.” Say something good that they did, unqualified. Then give something that needs work or change. Then wrap it up with another good thing. Makes the whole criticism thing go down much better, and gets more change faster the next time.

  • Jess references a pretty common feedback technique. Another one that gets taught as part of coaching is to avoid the use of the word ‘but’. People treat ‘but’ as a way to string two clauses together. That may be the case for them. What it achieves for a listener is often a negation of the previous clause. The word ‘but’ erases anything that came before it.

    Try it. ‘I understand this is important to you, but -‘ and what many people here is ‘I don’t care that this is important to you,’ before you even get to the next phrase.

    If you are actually giving feedback, use separate sentences or an inclusive phrase. Never use ‘but’. ‘I understand this is important to you. I need you to understand that we don’t have budget for it this quarter. I am open to suggestions on next quarter. If you have ideas for this one, let’s hear those. I’d like to support you in this. The money isn’t there at this time.’

    Believe it or not, if we stick buts in the middle there, we get a very different emotional response from my audience, who hears ‘I don’t give a crap. Suck it up.’ when what we mean is, “I get this is important. I have no money. Let’s figure it out.’

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