It's time to "but" out at work

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(MoneyWatch) How many times a day do you find yourself saying "but"? As in, "but I didn't get the specs until yesterday!" or "but Jennifer said" or "but at my old office we". If any of those statements sound like something that comes out of your mouth, it's time to get the "buts" out.

We're generally programmed to defend ourselves, so when someone comes at us with negative feedback our gut instincts are generally to protest and then out comes that "but" word. But just because it's natural doesn't mean it's better. If you want to improve in your career, when your boss is telling you that you're doing something wrong, it's actually a blessing. It's impossible to improve if we don't know what our faults are.

And of course, not all bosses are rational. But (ha!), the reality is that your boss is your boss and so if she is being irrational, it behooves you to bow to her idea of reality. It may make  absolutely  no sense that everyone has to be into the office between 8:00 and 8:01, but if that's what she likes, you'll do better if you stop arguing about the ridiculous  nature of it ("but I get all my work done, my clients love me, and I frequently stay late!") and simply start showing up at 8:00.

Now, I'm not telling you to be a complete wimp and allow people to walk all over you. You should absolutely stand up for yourself and you can do so without sounding antagonistic and defensive. Here's how you can change those "buts" to positives:

Boss: Why is this proposal not finished! I told you it was due by noon today!

Old way: But I didn't get the specs until yesterday!

New way: Yes, and I apologize. I did not get the specs until yesterday so I am working as quickly as possible. Can Jane help me out?

Boss: Why did you not copy me on that email?

Old way: But Jennifer said you didn't want to be copied on everything!

New way: I understood that you didn't wish to be copied on everything. I'm very happy to do so and will in the future.

Boss: Do not eat at your desk. We have a break room.

Old way: But at my  last job everyone ate at their desks! I'm so much more productive that way!"

New way: Okay. It's nice to have a real break! Is this a hard and fast rule or can I eat at my desk if I'm pushing a deadline?

When you drop the "buts" you drop the defensiveness and open up the possibility of a new solution. You acknowledge the boss's (or coworker's) feedback and can still explain what was going on. It can seem like a really little thing and it is. It's also a really little thing that makes a big difference.

You want people to let you know when they are not pleased with your performance. You want to improve. You want to be the one that they can't live without. Objecting and being defensive gets you assigned the label "bad attitude." Acknowledging and moving towards a solution gets you labeled as a team player. And that's the power of feedback. Make sure you put it to good use.