How to Use the Word “But” When Delivering Criticism

As popularized by Dale Carnegie in the book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” the word “but” is a powerful killer of morale.

Have you ever been listening to someone talk and just waiting for the “but” in their statement? A common tactic of telling people the truth is to mask the harsh truth with a compliment in the beginning of the statement and a “but” in the middle of it.

The word “but” renders a lot of what you say before it useless in the minds of the listener. Humans are very sensitive to criticism, and your attempts to mask criticism with a compliment and a “but” leave a bad taste in your listener’s mouth.

This article deals with a more proper use of the word “but” in regards to effectively influencing people and getting what you want. In short, rather than beginning with a compliment and ending with the “but…” criticism, you should flip the two. Begin with the criticism and finish with a “but…(compliment).”

The (Criticism) “But” (Compliment) Rule

Using the psychology of the context in which “but” is generally used, you can reverse the reaction you get to the word from your listener. Instead of having someone dread the “but” word during a compliment, you should begin with a criticism. When you begin with a criticism, the “but” will provide a much needed break from the critiques and add some breathing room to the conversation. Add a compliment after the “but” and your listener will hold less hostility for your critiques.

Saying a compliment after the “but” also gives your criticism more validity in the mind of the listener. When people tell you a compliment and then follow with a “but…(critique),” the compliments they said prior seem to be only there for setting up the but and do not feel genuine.

Starting off with a criticism then finishing with a compliment however, gives the criticism more validity and maintains the honestly of the criticism that follows. The listener therefore understands that you not only care about voicing your criticism but also hold importance in the compliment that you give towards the end.

Your listener will be more likely to take the critiques to heart with this method of delivering them, and you will see more effective results in changing others’ behaviors rather than using the word “but” in the way most people do.


You see a dating profile of an attractive person who only has one photo uploaded. You want to see more photos of them and don’t know how to ask to see more.

Common method of using “but”:

“You look great in that photo, but why do you only have one?”

Effective use of the word “but”:

“You have only one photo uploaded and I’d love to see more, but you look great in it.”

Read our analyses of current events by becoming a subscriber.

Disclaimer of Opinion: This article is presented only as opinion. It does not make any scientific, factual, or legal claims. Please critically analyze all claims made and independently decide on its validity.