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The Difference Between “No, But” and “Yes, And”

·545 words·3 mins
Communication Relationships

For a very long time, I’ve been extremely irritated by a phenomenon I call the “False Correction”

What is the False Correction? It’s pretty simple. It’s when someone acts like you’re wrong and they’re correcting you about something, but they’re just being more specific than you were. And the general thing you said was true.

Here’s a very basic example:

“Hey, can you grab the blue book on the bench there?”

“That book? That book’s navy. Not blue.”

Never mind that navy is a shade of blue. So it is navy, and it is blue. Both things are true. Subset, superset.

Yet the person acts as though you are wrong. And jumps in to correct you, sometimes smugly.

This happened all the time when I worked at Borders Bookstore in Bangor back in the day. My coworkers at the time were particularly prone to this behavior. They did it constantly. No matter what I was doing, I was being subjected to some kind of False Correction. Where what the person was saying was true but so was what I said, and there was actually no need to correct me.

I wondered about it at the time. Why these folks were so prone to this. As best I could tell, most of my coworkers were incredibly educated to be working in retail. I was an oddity, not having graduated from college at the time. Nearly all of my colleagues had bachelor’s degrees. Most had master’s degrees. There were even a few doctorates.

I think the way the customers treated us (often poorly) was at odds with how they viewed themselves — not in small part due to their educational background. True, they weren’t really using it in the way they intended.

But they were educated and they were proud.

And they were always on the lookout for ways to appear smart, even if it meant falsely correcting others.

At first, I took this rather hard. But then I realized that they did it constantly to each other. This was often quite an amusing sight to behold, two folks falsely correcting one another back and forth like some kind of perverse ping pong match, escalating until one party threw down the proverbial paddle and stormed off to the cafe to see if the baristas “needed any help.”

The Difference Between “No, But” and “Yes, And”

As annoying as that behavior might have been when I worked there, I did take something from the experience. It was instrumental in highlighting the difference between telling someone “no, but” and “yes, and.”

Because frankly, that’s all it would have taken, for those conversations to feel less like condescending False Corrections — and more like someone was interacting with me to tell me something that maybe I didn’t know.

All they really had to do was acknowledge that what I said was true and then build a bridge to something else that was also true — but maybe more specific.

And they still would have come off as intelligent or knowing or whatever thing they were trying to prove. But I would have been less annoyed by their efforts. And we would have probably been closer.

It’s a principle I’ve tried to take with me everywhere I’ve been since then.


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