This week, your challenge is to use a communication tool that requires only two words: “Yes, And.” These two little words have the power to help you build stronger, more collaborative teams, have more productive brainstorming sessions and encourage creative thinking. They can also help you develop confidence, establish trust, improve relationships, and manage conflict—all of which create a positive environment at work and in your personal life.
“Yes, And” is a technique I’ve used in board retreats to inspire innovation and to ensure everyone’s ideas are not only just heard, but also explored. Sometimes the best ideas come from the most outrageous ideas, and the only way to get to the best is to give yourself permission to think freely and without fear!
The Second City is the world’s leading comedy theater and school of improvisation where they use “Yes, And” as a way to keep a scene going. In the book Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration–Lessons from The Second City by Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton, author Kelly Leonard writes:
“Creative breakthroughs occur in environments where ideas are not just fully explored, but heightened and stretched to levels that may seem absurd at first.”
HOW THE “YES, AND” TECHNIQUE WORKS
The Second City’s website describes “Yes, And” as “a state of mind that all of the performers adhere to.” They also define the process of how to use the technique:
The basic concept of these two words is that you are up for anything, and will go along with whatever gets thrown your way. Essentially, you don’t use the word “No” in improv very often! The “And” part comes in when you are in a scene and can add to what your partner started rather than detract from it.
A large part of improv is that you are always there for your scene partner or partners, and, in turn, they are always there for you. This is the goal of “Yes, And”! By saying yes to your scene partner, you create something much more entertaining. If you start a scene by saying that you are an alien, and your scene partner completely commits to also being an alien, being abducted by an alien, etc., both of you know you can count on the other person.
In other words, you are completely committed to accepting any idea that comes your way and supporting it by adding to or building upon it. For example, in an improv scene, one person may say, “I’m driving to the beach.” Then another person could say, “Yes, and we need to stop for bathing suits.” This adds to the scene instead of ignoring what was said initially.
Similarly, the way this technique works in business is that whenever someone shares an idea, you use “Yes, And” so that person feels like their idea was heard and that you value what they said. It also builds their confidence to share more ideas in future meetings or group settings. Because let’s face it, it can be scary to put your thoughts out there for everyone to hear! No one wants to feel stupid when they share something. By saying, “Yes, And” you give people the ability to make suggestions without being afraid that they will be put down or shrugged off.
“Yes, And” can do wonders for your employee relationships, your family relationships, and your friendships. It creates a safe place for everyone to get their ideas on the table because each person can authentically voice their own perspective while at the same time supporting what everyone else is saying. That’s true collaboration!
Agreeing with what someone said and then building upon that idea with your own new idea is a process that allows creativity to flow freely and fearlessly, which breaks down barriers and radically transforms how problem-solving can be approached.
THE BEST PART
The greatest gift that comes from using this technique is that all judgments are left off the table. Everyone gets to contribute without worrying about how they are being perceived. And at the end of the day, it won’t matter whose idea was the best because each person had a hand in bringing it to the surface. Leonard writes:
“If you can create an ensemble where everyone agrees to surrender the need to be right, you will increase productivity by leaps and bounds. You will create an environment where innovation can flourish; you will also make everyone happier.”
Your challenge this week is to “give every idea a chance to be acted on.” Use the Week 9 Communication Challenge Worksheet to write down an idea you or someone else had and then expand upon that idea by using the “Yes, And” technique. Here’s an example:
Idea: Let’s use our income tax refund to save for a vacation this summer.
Idea: And: Yes, and we can visit a place we’ve never been to before.
Practice all week at work and in your personal life and note how it strengthened communication between you and those with whom you exchanged ideas!