For many in business, it can be hard to get your teams to communicate both their needs and their ideas. With so many rules and regulations, it can be even more challenging to get new ideas accepted and implemented. Often, it’s because of some long-standing “That’s just the way it’s always been done” thinking or perhaps an aversion to taking any sort of risk. Those two attitudes can kill a discussion or idea generation before it’s even begun.

Today, we’re going to look at an aid to conversation and culture that will make daily
communications flow better and show you how a simple team building exercise can generate great camaraderie, too.

Introducing one of the strongest, well-known, and revered Improv principles that not only makes magic happen on stage, but that will help you connect with others and get ideas implemented more quickly: “Yes, and…”

It’s the basic tenet of Improv AND it can do great things for you in your day-to-day communications. Learning and adopting this attitude can change a person, a team, and a company.

The three ways to improve your communications and be more innovative are the following:

  • Start with “Yes, and…” to create agreement, enthusiasm and options
  • Understand the drawbacks of “no” so you can avoid its pitfalls
  • Learn how “Yes, and…” generates opportunity instead of problems
  • Using “Yes, and…” in daily conversations keeps possibility alive
  • Be aware of this one fatal trap of negativity!

How you can improve your conversation skills and become a creative problem solver

Start with “Yes, and…” to create agreement, enthusiasm and options

Often people ask how the magic works in Improv. It’s as simple as this:

We agree with what we’re given, and then we add a bit.

It’s magical, and we create characters, scenes, and worlds by doing it.

On stage, if someone makes an offer, the other player says, “Yes!” with enthusiasm and adds their next bit. (In truth, they don’t have to say the words “Yes, and…” just as long as they agree that what was offered is good and add on. New players are usually coached to say the words each time until it becomes second nature to them. You should, too.)

For example, if Player A offers Player B, “Captain, we’ve been hit by a torpedo!” the other player will agree in words and actions, that they are indeed the Captain and they’ve been struck.

There’s no denial or search for “better” ideas. That’s just what it is! Player B now assumes an air of authority and begins ordering his fellow boatmen to get things in order.

A bad example has Player A offering a mimed object saying, “Here, take this rifle.” If Player B says, “That’s not a rifle. It’s a bouquet.” our scene is dead in the water. Three people out of 100 chuckle because of the Gotcha! But the players are left struggling with what to do next. Not funny. Not interesting.

“Yes, and…” is not how the ordinary, staid, and rigid world works. It’s a learned skill, and it takes practice to get used to doing. In a moment, we’ll look at two ways to use it in your days.

So, if you are a banker meeting with your coworkers and someone says,

“Maybe we could process Paycheck Protection loans via email to speed up the process,”
respond with “Yes, let’s look into that now.”

Old banking would respond with, “I don’t know. The regulations may not allow it.”

The first way looks for solutions. The second way stops the creative process before it starts

Understand the drawbacks of “no” so you can avoid its pitfalls

Usually, if you ask someone something, the default answer is “No.” People sometimes say “No” because they don’t want to overcommit to something, they fear they’ll be taken advantage of, or maybe they legitimately don’t like the task or person asking.

In actuality, most often, people are saying “No” when they mean “I haven’t thought about it yet.”

For example, I used to work in a cubicle at Citibank. One day, I went to my neighbor Tom’s cube to ask if he could help with a bit of programming logic.

He quickly said, “No.”

But then he stopped what he was doing, turned around to me and said, “Oh… um… yeah. I can do that.” He didn’t mean the No. He just said it to buy some time until he could think about fitting it in. People do this all the time!

* Most people say No, when all they need is a moment to think about it. *

Sometimes people have a hard No to some things based on their personality, upbringing, and preferences. No is perfectly acceptable in those situations.

It’s not like if someone says, “Let’s steal this car,” you should immediately agree with them! You have moral, legal, and personal reasons not to do some things. Cool. Keep to your principles.

What we’re talking about today is the all-too-easy, quick No that pervades our language when people mean “I haven’t thought it through yet.”

“You can never get more by saying ‘No.’ You can hold a current position by saying “No,” but you can only move forward by saying ‘Yes.'” – Marshall Sylver

Learn how “Yes, and…” generates opportunity instead of problems

There is a “most-important something” that you should know about the “Yes, and…” technique.

It does not mean “Yes, I will do exactly what you say right now.” It means, “Yes, I
acknowledge your request, and let’s look for options.” While occasionally, it can mean “Yes” and “Right now,” the intention here is not to get you a ton of more work to do.

“Yes,” means I hear you. I know you want that.

The “and…” part is thinking about and working through the options to help get that demand fulfilled. It’s not the same as merely “Yes,” which means I’ll grant your request as requested.

That was written twice in slightly different ways because I want you to get the importance of the distinction.

Once, between sessions of a multi-week workshop, a financial advisor that was a participant named Angela called me practically in tears. She said, “I can’t keep saying ‘Yes’ to things. My plate is overflowing. I’ve got too much to do now!”

The problem was she was just saying “Yes” to requests and taking them on. We talked for a while, and I got her to see

the difference between “Yes” and “Yes, and…”

She was much happier about it then. Even better, she called me back a few months after the workshops were over and told me how great work was going now that she had learned to “Yes, and…” things with her coworkers. She’d become more agreeable and the “go to” person.

I sense concern from some leaders about over-promising things to customers. You can acknowledge requests and seek options without making any commitment. Say,

“Yes, I get your request, and let’s look for a solution that works for everyone.”

Then dive into innovation mode. You will have a happy customer that understands you want to work with them to improve the situation. That’s much better than letting someone walk away fuming about how you just wouldn’t listen.

Using “Yes, and…” in daily conversations keeps possibility alive

The goal here isn’t to make you a pushover or an easy mark for people to dump their work and problems on. “Yes, and…” allows for conversation and creativity. People get along better when they’re agreeable, and the shared searching for options makes everyone feel included and empowered.

For example, if my son comes to me and asks if I’ll buy him a new video game console for $250, I can say, “Yes, I see you want that, and let’s think of ways to make it happen. You could mow a bunch of lawns. We could ask Grandma to buy it. You can put it on your birthday list…” and other options. And then he throws a couple of ideas about how to get it, too.

You see, even if he walks away without the new console in hand, it’s in his future. He’s happy. He knows he’s likely to get it in one of those ways, AND more importantly to me, he liked talking with his dad and creating the choices.

If I had just said, “No,” he walks away thinking his dad’s a jerk!

Another example: If someone asks you if you can take on a 10-hour project, you might say, “Yes, my team can do that for you if next month is good for you” OR “Yes, if you can get a budget allotment for it” OR “Yes, I know you need that done quickly, so let’s call and see if Joe’s team has some free cycles.”

Obviously, the answer is Yes if that’s your expected job or if it’s easy enough for you to fit it in. Yes, please say “Yes” to whatever you can without completely overburdening yourself.

AND, when your first inclination is to say “No,” try a “Yes, and…” approach instead.

Be aware of this one fatal trap of negativity!

There is a subtly different answer than “Yes, and…” that is a trap and can actually ruin your communications. Beware of “Yes, but…”

“Yes, but…” shows up very frequently in both business and personal conversations. On the surface, it seems like you’re being kind and gentle by saying “Yes” and then letting someone down with a reason.

The truth is that you’re being sort of mean by doing this!

You’re actually saying “Yes, but… No!” It’s teasing and taunting to do that.

Imagine you take an idea to your supervisor and give all the details you’ve thought through. She is smiling and nodding as you talk. You feel like it’s going well. When you’re done she says, “Yes, that’s a great idea.” Immediately you puff up a little, happy your idea has merit and that you look smart.

Then you notice she’s still talking, “But, we have this other idea that we’re already going with.” You are crestfallen. It seems like a good idea, but it won’t happen.

The “Yes, but…” got your hopes up and then dashed them to the ground. It happens far more than you realize.

Pay attention over the next few days to how often this happens. Watch the person giving the idea carefully. When they hear the “Yes” they smile and look confident. Then, the “but” comes along and they wilt just a little bit.

Obviously, I encourage a “Yes, and…” here. Let’s look for options and everyone leaves happy and empowered. But really, if you can’t do that, at least just say “No” instead of getting their hopes up and then dropping them. A solid “No” is something people can deal with.

People don’t consciously realize it in the moment, but when they are hit with a “Yes, but…” their brain makes a little minus one (-1) notation on the mental record. If you accumulate a large enough number of these minus ones (-1, -1, -1, etc.), people will stop talking with you or bringing you ideas. It closes the communication lines and the entire team and business can suffer because of it.

From now on, avoid ever responding with “Yes, but…”

Now you try: Agree and add on to everything!

Try it for a week. See if you can “Yes, and…” every request that comes your way. You just might find that people enjoy talking with you more. You’ll become more friendly, agreeable, and a creative problem solver.

If you create a culture of “Yes, and…” people will communicate more freely and getting results will become an easy, natural thing everyone does automatically.

You could just read this and say “Nice idea” but not try it. That’s how most people read things.

But you want to better yourself, right?

Do you want to be more successful in your communications, your relationships, and your life?

Will you try to “Yes, and…” things this week?