Recently, I had the pleasure and privilege of spending the holidays with my friend, Isabelle Roland (and her amazing family). Isabelle and I have known each other for over 35 years. Isabelle’s a wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, godmother (to my daughter), classical musician, teacher, leader and so much more. I feel so grateful for our wonderful friendship as we’ve watched each other’s children grow up, met those we each love, gone through hardships and celebrated victories.

In one of our recent holiday conversations, she mentioned something she’d learned from me a long time ago that still helps her in her thinking.

It comes from the world of negotiation and starts with making a distinction between distributive vs integrative negotiating. I wanted to share it with you as it’s something I do and use as well, but have forgotten that there was a time I didn’t.

I hope you like the concept.

Saying it in an easy way, it’s to remember to get your “but” out of my face.

We have been teaching this little tip at the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the Justice Institute of BC, where I’ve taught for 25 years.

Once you learn this, your relationship with “but” and your thinking may be as massively impacted as Isabelle’s and mine. I hope so!

So, firstly, we need to understand a basic concept from negotiation theory: distributive and integrative negotiating.

Distributive negotiating assumes there is a fixed pie, that there is a limited resource and so we need to think in terms of “either/or”. Either you get it or I do. Win/Lose.

Distributive negotiating might be something similar but perhaps it’s compromise: you get a little and I get a little. Compromise is a Win/Lose plus Win/Lose equation.

A distributive approach is a type of win/lose bargaining and is competitive. In the world of finite resources, we start to feel threatened and our survival biology kicks in.

See my How to Have Difficult Conversations course for more on avoidance culture and how to turn that around.

With integrative negotiating, there’s an assumption that we can expand a pie, that there can be more possibilities for ways to solve a problem than may appear at the start.

Integrative negotiating requires us to stop fixating on the limited pie of either/or. When we are focused simply on what is in front of us, it’s easy to descend into distributive negotiating or win/lose because all we see is limitation and black and white thinking.

In that state, we lack imagination and even willingness to approach the problem creatively.

For integrative negotiating, you need “Both/And Thinking.” This kind of thinking leads to creative and innovative thinking.

Integrative negotiating is a type of collaborative negotiating where we include the deeper needs of everyone. Both/And.


Foundational to this approach is starting with understanding each other’s perspective. We need to get more clear on what is driving us – our own motivation – and what the deeper needs are driving the other(s).

We need to talk in a way that allows us both to be heard and understood so the deeper needs can surface. Once they do, then we can get creative and innovative about what else might solve the problem.

“Both/And Thinking” is also the name of a new book by Wendy K. Smith and Marianne W. Lewis. They’ve spent decades researching paradoxes looking for the key to how to help people deal with their thorny issues. They too landed on “Both/And Thinking.”

They have also discovered that adopting this “Both/And Thinking” mindset makes possible more creative, flexible, and impactful outcomes.

That’s been my experience tpp as a mediator, in hundreds of conflicts, playing out in a multitude of contexts (work, home, school, government, First Nations, etc).

Shifting from “but” to “and” is a tremendous tool and so simple that it can seem like a party trick. And, it can be that fun to do too.

The new action or habit – is to shift from using “but” at all times for a while (or any of its cousins like “however” or “nonetheless”) and simply replace it with the word “and.”

See what happens!

At first, it seems silly. I know, I’ve actually suggested this to hundreds of people, as it was one of the first I learned when I was schooled in conflict resolution. It’s fundamental and it is powerful.

When we jettison “but” and replace all our buts with ands, we find we can stretch our thinking.

That’s what Isabelle meant! She’s adopted the practice and found that she can include more things in her world by keeping her but out of her (and other people’s) faces.

You don’t need to do it permanently but if you experiment for a while, you will notice the impact it has on your thinking and your outcomes.

Try it. I’d love to hear the results!