I’ve been leading companies through applied improvisation trainings since 2008. I’ve worked with hundreds of organizations, big and small, on topics ranging from building leadership skills to communicating confidently, from team building to skill building.
And there’s one idea that stands out as an “ah-ha” in every single group. It doesn’t matter if it’s a marketing team from Procter & Gamble, a sales team from ESPN, or a group of engineers from GE. They all remember “Yes And.” (Don’t believe me? Ask our clients!)
If you’ve ever taken an improv class, you’ve heard “yes and.” It’s one of the founding principles that makes creating original content on the spot with other people possible. When you’re on stage improvising with a scene partner, you could argue about details of a scene that don’t actually exist… or you could say YES by agreeing to what the other person’s idea is AND then add your own idea. Through this you discover a scene neither of you imagined nor could create alone.
In the business world, YES AND is a powerful mindset that can improve brainstorming, build teams, change attitudes, and increase productivity. But to better understand the power of YES AND, let’s start with its counterpart, the much more popular “Yes, But.”
Starting somewhere around the 3rd grade, we are taught critical thinking skills. Our schooling teaches us to look at a situation and see what’s wrong. We solve problems and we move on. In business, we’re keenly aware that we don’t have unlimited budgets, unlimited resources, or unlimited time.
So we learn to leverage YES BUT. Because YES BUT is the nicest way to say “No.” If a coworker asks you “Hey, could you help me with this?” you can politely respond “Yes, but I wouldn’t get my work done so I can’t right now.” Or perhaps it’s a manager, “I know I’ve given you 15 other things to work on, but I need you to do this 2-week project in a day and I need it yesterday.” This can be a great time to use YES BUT, “Yes, but in order to be able to better focus on this new project, which of these other tasks would you like me to de-prioritize.”
You just told your manager “Yes,” and you (hopefully) saved yourself from going crazy from working without sleep.
Sadly, these aren’t the only instances of YES BUT that we hear. In fact, YES BUT comes up nearly every day. When a new employee has an idea for trying something new (“Yes, but we tried that in 1999.”), a coworker throws out an idea while brainstorming (“Yes, but we’ll never get the budget for that.”), or a teammate asks if you want to go to lunch (“Yes, but I thought I’d sit at my desk and eat while working because I have way too many emails.”).
At it’s most basic level, YES AND is about saying the phrase “Yes, and…” in response to an idea.
But YES AND is more than two words to use in a sentence. It’s a mindset that changes the way we think. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with a situation, we focus on what’s right about it. Instead of dwelling on what might have been, we build on what has happened.
YES AND is about us, not you or me. It’s not about “here’s my idea, let’s do it, and only my way.” It’s “here’s an idea, let’s build on it together, and now it’s our idea.” You don’t have to look very far to know that engagement, ownership, and pride are instrumental in having a successful business.
Drew Tarvin is the corporate manager and lead facilitator for ComedySportz NYC. He has worked over 100 organizations on topics including communication, team building and using humor in the workplace. He is a former Computer Science Engineer and best-selling author of the book 501 Ways to Use Humor at Work. You can read more on his musings on his blog about humor at work.