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Get Rid of Your But

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One of the most important lessons salespeople can learn from stage improvisers is the concept of "Yes, and." The secret to moving an improvised scene forward is to say "yes" to everything the other actors say, accepting what they give and building upon it. (Watch Jon Stewart some evening when he interviews another comedian on The Daily Show. They create an entertaining interview by saying "yes" to everything the other person says, continually exploring and building.)

Saying "Yes" is also extremely important in a sales conversation; to keep your customer engaged with you, you need to accept every little twist and turn he throws into the conversation, using them as opportunities to move the conversation forward. Deny what your customer brings into the conversation, and you might shut the conversation down.

The key, however, is to follow "Yes" with "and." One mistake people often make is to respond with "yes, but" instead of "yes, and."

Get Rid of Your ButIf one actor on stage improvises the line, "Let's go bobsledding standing on our heads," and another actor says, "Yes, that would be fun, but it would be dangerous," the audience is going to feel that the scene has stalled. A "but" is a big barrier. What if, instead, the other actor responded with, "Yes, and I'll dial 911 just before we go down the hill, so they'll be on their way even before we crash!" Much more entertaining.

Let's explore how this works in a sales conversation. Recently, I was coaching a salesperson who sells high-end men's clothing, helping him prepare for a conversation with a retailer. Due to the tough economy, this retailer was threatening to reduce the amount of the salesperson's product his stores carried. Role-playing as the retailer, I said, "Our customers have less money to spend, and we don't think they are willing to pay for your kind of product. So, we're going to cut back and only carry a few of your pieces this season."

Trying to use the concept of "Yes, and," the salesperson's response was, "Yes, I agree that your customers have less money to spend, so they are being very careful with their dollars. But we could focus this season on the lowest-priced items in our line, so you won't lose the customers who come into your store looking for our merchandise."

I asked him to rephrase his comment, avoiding the word "but." Here's what he came up with: "Yes, I agree that your customers have less money to spend, so they are being very careful with their dollars. And I think that we can find a way to keep most of those scarce dollars in your store. We have customers who are loyal to your brand and to mine, and we don't want to lose loyalty. So if we focus this season on my lower-priced items, we can protect our customer relationships in this tough time."

Although both answers communicate essentially the same message, the salesperson's second response will be much more effective. In the first response, the salesperson is disagreeing with his customer. By "getting rid of his but" in the second response, he is able to build on what his customer says. "Yes, and" moves a conversation forward. "Yes, but" slows a conversation down.

Also, notice how "and" helped him build on his own idea. After saying "but," he said his idea could help the retailer not lose customers. However, after saying "and," he offered a much richer, more interesting and more positive way of saying the same thing. Saying "and" doesn't only move the conversation forward for your customer, it moves the conversation forward for you.

So, get rid of your but. You'll find that you can move forward much more effectively.


Listen as people try to persuade you. How often do they use the word "but" as they try to convince you to change your mind? Notice your reaction.

How do you compare

Pay attention to how you engage in sales conversations as you try to persuade people. Do you use the word "but" a lot? Could you replace your "buts" with "ands?"

Try this

Consciously try to use "Yes, and" in your conversations at work this week. First, say "yes" by accepting whatever the other person says. (You don't always have to use the exact word "yes" to say yes; depending on what the other person says, you might say, "let's talk about that" or "that's an interesting point," or some other positive sign of agreement.) Then follow your "yes" statement with an "and" that moves the conversation forward. Purposely avoid the word "but"... see if you can do it!

Steve Yastrow
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