The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a coordinating conjunctionas: “a conjunction (such as and, or, or but) that joins together words, phrases, or clauses of equal importance.”
In mediation as well as in other forums, these two, three letter conjunctions can do much more than simply coordinate! Consider Webster’s definition that the two clauses are of “equal importance.” Often, the use of but can make the two parts of the sentence very unequal! The choice of which to use can subtly manipulate and send a message of exclusion or inclusion. In many instances, “but” excludes, denies, discounts or in some way rejects the previous independent clause: 1
|Excludes or is dismissive of that which precedes it||Expands and includes what precedes it|
|Negates, discounts, or cancels that which precedes it||Acknowledges what precedes it|
|May easily be perceived as pejorative||Perceived as more neutral|
|Suggests the first issue is subordinate to the second||Suggests there are two issues to be addressed|
“I may owe her, but I don’t have any money” leaves unspoken but nevertheless implies: “therefore, I’m not paying.”
“I may owe her, and I don’t have any money” implies there may be two distinct issues to be addressed.
“Yes, I would like to resolve this, but we’re not making any progress” leaves unspoken but implies: “so it’s not going to resolve.”
“Yes, I would like to resolve this, and we’re not making any progress” implies we may need another approach.
“But” tends to sour the air in the room making our task of assisting parties to find resolution more difficult while “and” opens a window of opportunity for addressing multiple issues, and using new approaches, while mitigating the taint of pejorative shadings. “And” avoids sending the message that the speaker is dismissive of that which preceded the conjunction. Since all parties want and expect to be heard, mediators will do well to let a little fresh air in by encouraging parties to substitute “and” for “but.”
1 For more on “but” versus “and” see: Ken Fields, http://ezinearticles.com/?But-vs-And&id=441222