Some dear friends invited our whole family for tea. It was great fun–all kinds of exotic things to try that told of faraway places. We had scones too–with a special ingredient. Delicious.

The conversation meandered to the subject of rules. Our friend said, eyes twinkling, “I don’t have a lot of rules, but two come to mind: (1) All the cookies are my cookies.” (Which we all found tremendously amusing.)

“And (2) No Yeahbuts.”

Both of his rules excited our curiosity, and made for delightful conversations not only on that day, but on subsequent occasions as well.

I could be wrong, but I take the second rule to be a curb on contentiousness. When children are growing up, their brains are constantly scanning for order. Rules help make the world predictable, and give them a sense of security and safety. Soon, as their reasoning powers progress, they begin learning that rules have exceptions. Now, their amazing brains are searching for the exceptions–experimenting with and shaking your stipulations to see if they’ll hold up to their profound scrutiny. You can see the sense of accomplishment on their face, and you think to yourself, “I’ve seen that look before, when they were two years old–right after they knocked over the block tower for the tenth time.” (The tower they don’t have the coordination to build–they want you to do that–yet is so fun to knock down.)

All of this is well and good! I applaud their inquisitive minds, and encourage them when they are asking about exceptions. I’ll build the tower all day. But, I’m also aware that children must be trained to listen deeply to the assertion being made–and not be too hasty to scan for exceptions that can easily derail the conversation. They have to learn to be Cooperative Builders–not just Knock Downers.

Unfortunately, some folks never completely grow out of exception-seeking. It becomes a habit of thought and speech. You begin to have a conversation, and you hear, “Yeah, but…..” It’s a competitive form of communicating. Sometimes, I even hear folks using “Yeah but” when they agree with you. You say, “It’s a nice day outside” and they respond with, “Yeah but the birds are chirping.”

Explore the common ground. See where you agree. Affirm as much as you can in the other person’s point of view. After deeply listening, you may discover that you don’t even have a “Yeah but” to contribute–that it’s irrelevant. If you have a contentious, adversative style as a speech habit–you may want to work on switching your “but” to “and.” Finally, if you’ve listened really well, and it’s time to make a contrasting point–folks will be much more ready to hear you if you don’t use “Yeah but…” to introduce your sentence.