Mastering the Art of “Yes, And…”

Imagine that you are charged with creating an entire stage performance for a live audience. There’s just one catch: you have no props, no script, no costumes, no direction, and no outline. It sounds pretty scary, right? Yet this is precisely what improvisational comedians do every time they take the stage. And they have a not-so-secret rule that keeps their comedy going: First, they say “yes.” Then they say “and.”

“Yes, and…”

“Yes, and…”

One person says a line, and then the next person accepts it and adds to the idea.

So the first person on stage might open with the line, “This is the most awful meal I’ve ever tasted!” The next person isn’t going to say, “No, we’re not eating, we’re climbing Mount Everest.” They won’t say, “But you’re just pretending to eat a meal. There isn’t really a plate in front of you!”

They say, “Yes, and…” They carry the first idea and build upon it.

“Yes, and here I thought that deep-fried cardboard would be delicious!”

“Yes, and you even finished your third helping.”

“Yes, and I fed mine to the cook’s pet ferret.”

“Yes, and…” takes the story somewhere new. It’s can create a scene, or even an entire play.

Business leaders can learn from the rules of improv comedy, too.

You see, “Yes, and…” is at the heart of the collaborative process. It’s one of the keys to having authentic conversations with your team members. In fact, you can apply this “Yes, and…” technique to your own organization’s communication. It’s a simple way to improve collaboration and inspire innovation.

Avoid “Yes, but…”

Let’s say that someone offers you a suggestion or idea for a new project. Perhaps it’s a truly exceptional idea. Yet you know that the project won’t fit your current budget. You don’t have enough people to devote to it. It’s not a great time to implement this idea.

You could say, “Yes, but we don’t have the budget.” Or, “Yes, it’s a fine idea, but it won’t work right now.”

“Yes, but…” is a big problem, however. That little word—“but”—negates everything that comes before it.

Trying “Yes, and…” can keep your team member’s inspiration alive and position them to check back in with you when a better opportunity arises.

So instead of “Yes, but…” you could say, “I like your idea, and let’s revisit it next month when we look at the budget for the year.”

“I think your idea could work! Let’s circle back when our team has more time and availability to devote to it.”

“Yes, but…” stops great ideas in their tracks. “Yes, and…” keeps them going.

Build upon the initial idea.

Just like with improv comedy, the “Yes, and…” method works best when everyone in the conversation adds to the original idea.

So instead of merely saying, “I like your idea,” try, “I like your idea, and I think that the IT department has some resources that can help you implement your project.”

“You have some good insights, and I think that we should consult with the yearly budget before moving forward.”

“I think that she would make a great leader, and let’s make sure she can attend this workshop so that she’s ready to take on her new responsibilities.”

Steer each conversation toward learning, growing, and improving.

The “Yes, and…” technique doesn’t eliminate the need for team accountability and criticism. In fact, it allows you to offer criticism that encourages growth and learning from past mistakes.

Imagine, for instance, that you need to confront someone about a project they turned in two weeks behind schedule. After listening to their perspective and insights into what went wrong, you could say, “I understand, but it was your responsibility to keep everything on track.”

Or you could try something else: “I understand, and I think we should discuss what we can change about your process so you can manage your team and your time more effectively during your next project.”

The first approach sets the stage for blame and resentment. But the second approach—the “Yes, and…” approach—sets the stage for growth and development.

So can the “Yes, and…” technique work for your organization?

Yes, and you might be surprised by the effectiveness of your results.

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