Despite it not being its literal meaning, when you use the word ‘just’ in a sentence people usually transform it in their minds to ‘merely’ as an adverb. This filler word can soften what you’re trying to say, but not necessarily in a good way. Rather, it tends to make you sound less confident.
For example, when you say ‘I was just wondering’, other people hear it as ‘I was merely wondering’ and that comes across as "diminished, disingenuous and defensive” according to language experts. It can make you seem like you have less expertise in what you’re discussing, which is not an impression you’d want to make.
Everyone knows that when ‘but’ comes up in a conversation, it might be bad news. After all, it typically has the power to negate everything that has been said before it. "It can also be perceived as a way to diminish or undercut the object of the sentence or the person being spoken to," explains management consultant, executive coach, and facilitator Liz Kislik.
So how can you give constructive critique or feedback without the word ‘but’? Kislik suggests two replacements: ‘and’ or ‘now’. The word ‘and’ makes it feel as though you’re adding to what you said rather than contradicting it, while ‘now’, when used after a pause, gives the sense of ‘next’ moving on in the conversation.
Cutting out the ‘buts’ and using these alternatives will help your conversation partners feel more open to hearing what you have to say, and feel like you’re leading to something positive rather than undercutting what you said before.
Words have power, even those we say to ourselves. The word ‘should’ allows us to be actively critical of ourselves. ‘I should or shouldn’t be doing this and that…’ suggest that we don’t accept ourselves or where we are in life, explains clinical psychologist Sophie Mort.
Even this small form of rejection can lead to stress and anxiety, which does the opposite of helping us. “It can shut down our brain's ability to problem solve and to maintain attention to a new task," said Mort. At the end of the day, anxiety over what we ‘should’ be doing can be the very thing that prevents us from doing that, creating a cycle of stress.