Collaboration in the workplace only thrives if people agree on primary goals and an understanding of the way to succeed. How often are discussions derailed by someone whose contributions are argumentative or contradictory? In improv theater, the idea of collective agreement is called “Yes, and,” and it’s an incredibly powerful tool for productive and positive business and interpersonal communication.
This form of unfettered agreement comes with the understanding that you don’t have to like 100% of what the other person says – alas, life is not that harmonious – but you do need to agree 100% that they said something of value and that it adds information to the discussion. In the office, you can’t solve problems if people are constantly undercutting each other’s ideas. On the improv stage, where we make stuff up as we go along, nothing works unless performers agree they are operating in the same reality. If you say it’s a dog and I say it’s a cat, that scene is going nowhere and we will end up fighting over which world we live in.
Transparently collaborative idea building has the benefit of creating some very memorable comedy theater, and brilliantly productive planning meetings. Unfortunately, humans by nature can be quite defensive and it’s our greater instinct to throw up road blocks in the name of saving our fragile ego. It often comes in the form of saying “Yes, but” instead of “Yes, and.” This natural inclination allows you to apply control over the other person’s idea, but it’s at the expense of a richer and more collaborative relationship.
Saying “but” is a qualified response that often evokes unnecessary conflict. “Yes, you have started the report, BUT I need it tomorrow.” There is no contradiction in those two truths. It is just as accurate and more cooperative to say “Yes, you have started the report, AND I need it tomorrow.” Candor with kindness!
If you have ever been on a second interview or a second date you already appreciate the acute value of this concept. In those situations you are eager to find common ground in order make a good impression. The moment you say, “You like movies, BUT I like books,” you have very effectively begun a list of things you don't have in common. If you were to say, "You like movies, AND I like books," you have just doubled your likes! Saying “but” is just a polite way of saying “no.” And when you say “no,” you are often not invited back. To either meet the team or go for a drink.
There is no doubt finding accord can sometimes be a challenge, but it does not have to be complicated. If you take the example, “I agree with your idea, but I have another one,” you can simply replace “but” with “and.” (Try it now, I’ll wait.) There is no factual conflict. Why invent one? No one likes to hear “Your idea is good, but mine is better.” When you apply “Yes, and” you are saying, “Your idea is good, and I have another one.” That’s a lot more palatable. Why yes, I’d love to get a drink!
The “Yes, and” technique is particularly effective when brainstorming. And particularly apparent when not in use. I have been in many brainstorming sessions where we were enthusiastically instructed, “Toss out your ideas and we’ll put them on the board!” And when someone has an idea that doesn’t conform to some hidden parameter – where the facilitator is essentially saying “no,” – that idea does not go on the board and that person doesn’t really feel like sharing any more. Using agreement and support for mutual discovery is the entire point of collective thinking!
When used judiciously, the result of all this unrestricted cooperation is it frequently leads to a more comfortable and productive working (and playing!) environment. Mike Morrell, one of my theater colleagues, calls it “the gospel of positivity.” We indoctrinate all of our students into that school of thought. I try to do the same with my clients.
The “Yes, and” concept is such a powerful path to effective communication, DLM embeds it in all of our training curricula. It’s a universal tool that can positively alter the tone of almost every interaction, including customer service, leadership development and project facilitation. How about personal relationships or client interaction? Can you think of other areas where agreement is the best route forward? Toss out some ideas and we’ll put them on the board!