I’ve caught myself using these words. You probably have, too! Here are three common words that we sh — will want to avoid when responding to others!


It’s not a good sign when you use it yourself, and you won’t want to use it with others either. Cindy Dove of Purposed Lives is always quick to bring it to my attention during a coaching session! “Should” is a forced, judgmental term that indicates an unpleasant expectation. Try it out. How does “I should go to my neighbor’s party” feel to you? Do you really think you’re going to have a fun time? How do you feel when someone else tells you that you really should talk to your coworker or that you should think about it a little longer. How likely are you to want to do it? Or even to actually do it? You may find that you’re dragging yourself kicking and screaming!   So, when speaking with others and making suggestions, choose your words carefully. Try these words instead: “might”, “could”, “an option/possibility is . . .”, etc.

“At Least”

I came across this one in Dr. Brené Brown’s amusing and heartwarming audio clip (turned cartoon short on youtube!) titled “The Power of Empathy.” She says that “at least” is a word that indicates sympathy, rather than empathy. If a person is struggling and we want to really receive that other person — to support them and love them through it — we need to actually be with them, sharing the pain. We want to make this clear to them: we desire to understand what the other is going through, we have been there ourselves, and we are willing to sit and hold the other’s hand through it all. This is what connection means.

Sentences that begin with “at least” create separation. Brown says that “at least” is an attempt to create a silver lining. This is actually an invalidation of others’ feelings, their fears, despair, and concerns. It’s a way to “fix it”, or to make it go away. One example Brené gives is someone saying: “My marriage is falling apart,” and the other responding: “At least you have a marriage.” Another is “John’s getting kicked out of school,” with the response, “At least Sarah is an “A” student.” If someone shares with you, respond with love. Tell them “I hear you. I support you and love you.” Or if you don’t know what to say, just be with them, and don’t respond at all. Brene says sometimes it can be best to say: “I don’t even know what to say right now. I’m so glad you told me.”


But is an obvious negation of what you have just received from the other person. Responding with “But” immediately tells the other person: “I do not receive what you just said. I may not even heard what you just said because I have already formed my own opinion!” In my beginning improv class at the Comedy Shrine in Aurora, it was drilled into us to always respond with “Yes, AND” , and never with a “But.” No matter what crazy line the person in front of you just gave you, you take that intro and run with it. You never know what wonderfully hilarious place it can take you to! Using “but” tells the other people that you don’t like their ideas, that you want to take things in your own direction. The same goes for a conversation. The other person wants to be heard. It’s ok not to agree! “I hear what you’re saying AND I would like to share my thoughts” goes a lot farther than “BUT this is what I think is true.”

Have you noticed yourself using these 3 words? It may be hard to eliminate them — But at least you know you should try!