Kill the “Yeah, but”

There’s something about hearing the words, “yeah, but…” that sends me into a sing-along in my head. Enter: Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny a la the Warner Brother’s 1957 animated short, What’s Opera, Doc?. In one part of this animated short, Elmer Fudd is portraying a hunter, and is chasing Bugs Bunny with the classical song Ride of the Valkyries as the background sound track. To the tune of the music, Elmer can be heard singing, as if it was his very own theme song: “kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit…” And so, the cartoon short became informally known as “Kill the Wabbit.” You can watch a snippet of the cartoon short here for context.

I like rhymes. I can explain how I got from “wabbit” to “yeah, but.” It just works. Think of all the people that you’ve heard say “yeah, but…” in a sentence. Those whom are really good at it will say those words so fast, as if they are one word: “yeahbut.” When an real expert utters this phrase, it might sound like “yeahbit” simply because of the warp speed it is uttered. To me, whether it’s “yeahbut” or “yeahbit,” they both rhyme with “wabbit.” Before I tie back to the cartoon, let’s talk about why the phrase “yeah, but” or “yeahbut” or “yeahbit” is worthy of a post.

Putting “yeah, but” at the beginning of a response to a request, idea, or suggestion is meant to demonstrate that someone else’s words were heard, and there is something even better to say in response. In some cases, there could be more than two people in the conversation, and instead of one person responding, there could be two or more people one-upping each other with their “yeah, but” responses. Have you been in one of those conversations? Did it feel like an actual conversation with productive, collaborative mojo? Did that conversation end with a solid, agreed-upon strategy where everyone felt their input was valued?

If I was a betting woman, I’d wager that anyone who has been on the receiving end of a “yeah, but” felt as if their idea or suggestion was handily cast aside without any further consideration. In other words, the “yeah, but” person was essentially saying, “thanks for offering your idea, BUT I’ve got some reason why it won’t work/a better idea/a protest about all the extra work your idea will create/a list of all the things you are unaware of that will squash your idea.” So, you get put on the defensive right away; because all you heard, and all the responder cared about, was what was said after the BUT.

Photo by Steve Johnson on

Three innocent letters, when arranged in the order “b-u-t” can eviscerate ideas and openly welcome doubt as quickly as they are said. Putting the “yeah” in front of the “but” looks and feels like superficial way to acknowledge that someone else had an idea or suggestion (the participation ribbon), then whatever is said after the “but” lands the true feelings. Over a short period of time, the “yeah, but” impacts your reputation as a good leader or a not so good leader. Leaders in supervisory and/or decision-making capacities can quickly create an entire group of quiet followers when they feed the “yeah, but.” One of my favorite quotes to inspire great leadership comes from Andy Stanley:

Leaders who refuse to listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.

andy stanley

I have been around a “yeah, but” at many points in my work life. I’ve watched them interact with others, and I’ve been silenced by the “yeah, but” quite a few times myself. The “yeah, but” person is not a listener. If there is a “yeah, but” around, others will figure that out fast. Saying “yeah, but” leads to a spiral of conversations that takes the team away from the point of the meeting/project/lunch spot choice/insert topic here. So as to avoid the pain and dysfunction of a discussion gone awry, eventually, folks stop offering ideas or suggestions when they are with a “yeah, but.” They just go along with whatever the “yeah, but” wants. And, they usually talk about it after “yeah, but” has moved along. Not healthy for anyone…not healthy for the organization or the culture, either.

It’s time to put a stop to the “yeah, but.” As you find and develop your leader voices, pay attention to your interactions, whether it’s selecting the decorations for a party, finding a lunch spot, or coming up with innovations for a process improvement. Do you use the phrase “yeah, but” when you hear others’ ideas and suggestions? Challenge yourself to call it out as soon as you say it…right there, right in that meeting or interaction. Ask others for feedback on your use of “yeah, but.” Then: kill it. Kill the “yeah, but.”

Do you work with a “yeah, but…?” Have you felt like the “yeah, but” has impacted your desire to contribute and offer up your ideas and suggestions? Next time that happens, ask to meet with the “yeah, but” to review the meeting/discussion/whatever interaction, and bring up the “yeah, but.” This person might not even realize it’s happening! Once it’s in the open, maybe you can offer to help this person kill it; kill the “yeah, but.”

The quick fix? Replace the word “but” with the word “and.” If you are the “yeah, but” reading this post, using the word “and” forces you to respond in a collaborative way. It’s nearly impossible to sound confrontational. “Yeah, but that will mean 10 hours of extra work for that report” sounds different than, “Yeah, and that will mean 10 hours of extra work for that report.” The “but” is asking for retort and defensiveness whereas the “and” invites open discussion; you heard the strategy, and you see how it can be done. One is subtractive, one is additive. If you want to ADD to the conversation, use AND. They both start with A. You’re welcome for that alliteration.

Getting back to why and how this ties to a 1957 cartoon? Elmer was after the wabbit…we are after the “yeah, but.” Cue: Ride of the Valkyries. Silly as it may be, this just might help you and/or others come at battling the “yeah, but” from a positive place (and, you’re also welcome for the new earworm). Got the music in your head? Great! Now, get out there and kill the “yeah, but,” kill the “yeah, but!”

Lead on, everyone!

Note: no wabbits were harmed in the writing of this post, and the author certainly does NOT condone harming wabbits, rabbits, or any other animal. Just the “yeah, but.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s