An employee shares an idea that doesn’t quite align with your thinking.
A client makes a request that you don’t believe will be in their best interests.
A vendor suggests a new solution to meet your needs, but you’re not immediately interested.
In any of these scenarios, one word ends the discussion: “No.” Sometimes, “no” is appropriate or even necessary, but not as often as we tend to use it. So, before you say it, think of the implications.
How does a cold, hard “no” make the other person feel? Is their perspective really so erroneous that it doesn’t deserve a minute or two of dialogue? And what does “no” do for you? It ends exploration, discourages input, and stifles growth.
Meanwhile, two words reframe the conversation:
The first rule of improv is to agree. Performers use this technique to snowball a creative narrative. The “yes” brings acceptance and affirmation; the “and” extends the narrative, and the conversation continues. If one of the performers says “no,” then the scene is over, the show comes to an end and the theater empties out (you remember theaters, right?). Okay, so that’s a bit dramatic, but hopefully you get the point.
There is almost always a way to turn a conversation around. For example, your response to the vendor from earlier could be, “Yes, and I will keep that in mind as I explore options,” thus graciously tabling the conversation. To the client, you might respond, “Yes, and there are some items to consider before we do that,” which opens the door to offer further direction. To your valued employee, saying, “Yes, and I have a few thoughts we can discuss to clarify what we’re thinking,” demonstrates appreciation and includes them in the process.
In improv, the “yes, and…” principle often unfolds as lighthearted comedy. In business, where things tend to be a bit more serious and agreeing to everything is unfeasible, “yes, and…” takes on many purposes.
Use It to Communicate
Words are everything, especially for leaders and teams. Words can unite—or undermine. When you lead with, “no,” you do yourself and others a disservice. “Yes, and” enables you to share your honest thoughts in a respectful and approachable manner. It also gives you that split second you need to organize and articulate those thoughts. Emotional intelligence and intellectual agility both require you to recognize and respond to others’ emotions. You can hone both qualities by practicing answering everyone and everything with, “yes, and…” (maybe not everyone, but try it with a few).
Use It to Collaborate
“Yes, and” begins whiteboard sessions. It fosters confidence and builds trust within the group, both of which are essential to ideation. “No” is a collaboration and conversation killer. It pits you vs. the other person and puts both parties in fight/flight mode. When you use, “yes, and,” you’ll soon find that saying “no” doesn’t feel good and that it actually takes you out of the narrative. “Yes, and” is elegant and gracious; it opens minds and an open mind is infinitely valuable to any discussion.
Use It to Affirm & Assist
Making a conscious effort to apply improv’s first rule to your business relationships is both a commitment and benefit to yourself. It will change your attitude and, in turn, your life (seriously). But it has to come from a place of genuine compassion. You don’t use it so that people feel respected; they feel respected because you choose to use it. And when someone says something agreeable—whether off the bat or after some back and forth—you can simplify the technique by pairing “yes, and” with “how can I help?” Try it today.