I know—that 2-word phrase sounds like it could be a sassy comeback from a teenager, but it’s not. Hear me out.
I ran across an article from Workforce.com recently that talks about a concept from improv (as in theatrical improvisation) that I love and that I apply all the time with coaching clients and, really, with most people I interact with. It’s the idea that, rather than saying “No, but…” or “Yeah, but…” after someone finishes expressing a thought, you follow it with the words “Yes, and…”
Why would you bother doing this? Because saying “Yes, and…” validates what the other person said. Yes, AND… it also leads to ideas and possibilities that you may not have come up with on your own!
Build the conversational momentum
The idea in improv is that you want the scene to build momentum and keep moving. And if one actor says “No, but…” in response to what the previous actor improvised, then it kills the momentum. Saying “no” also sends a judgmental shot across the communication bow: I heard what you said, but no, I don’t think I want to go along with what you started, so I’m going to completely change course with the next thing I say.
When you say “Yes, and…” in response to someone’s contribution to a conversation, you’re signaling that you’ve heard them, and that you’d like to add to what they just contributed—a much more collaborative, supportive way to communicate that keeps the ideas and the momentum going.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s possible to cheat the system by saying “Yes, and” without really embodying the spirit of the words, as in: “Yes, AND I hate your idea, AND I think you’re ridiculous for proposing it.” In that case, it doesn’t matter how much you say “Yes, and…“, you’re going to kill the momentum of the conversation. I’ve found, however, that even if you start not quite agreeing with what someone just said, if you force yourself to think and speak in terms of “Yes, and…”, you’ll create a subtle shift in your thinking and in the dynamic of the conversation that’ll allow it to move forward in positive and even unexpected ways.
Yes, AND… you can generate new ideas
Though I’m not an actor, I am a musician (jazz guitarist), and I know first hand how this “Yes, and…” improvisational principle works. In fact, I use it when it’s my turn to solo after a fellow musician solos on a jazz tune. As they’re winding down their solo, I’ll be listening to the notes they’re playing or the rhythms they’re using. And when it’s my turn to play, I’ll pick up where they left off. Maybe I’ll repeat the notes they played last, or I’ll use a similar riff. I do it, first, as a nod to their solo. Yes, AND… I almost always end up going in a new musical direction that I probably wouldn’t have gotten had I not picked up on what they were playing.
Yeah, OK, fine, but how does this apply to business communication? Well, it applies to communication in any environment—not just in business. That’s why it works in theatrical improv, musical improv, coaching, and even in conversations you have at work. “Yes, and…” works because it validates the person who contributed before you and because it encourages the generation of new ideas that can result from collaboration.
As you go about your work this week, try to catch yourself saying (or even thinking) the words “Yeah, but” or “No, but” and, instead, give “Yes, and” a try. Notice how others react to you following their contribution with “Yes, and…”, and see if your ability to acknowledge and ‘play off of’ what someone before you just said generates new and better ideas from your conversations. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Yes, AND… You’ll have tried something new. Have fun!
Guillermo Villar is principal coach with Cambio Coaching. He helps high-achieving individuals and teams communicate with intention to get the business results they want. If you’re interested in working with Guillermo, sign up for a free meeting to explore how he can help.