”Yes and” moves the conversation forward more easily than ”yes but”

I just love stealing ideas and taking advantage of them elsewhere. I guess that makes me a cleptomaniac of copyright free immaterial content. This time I’m about to steal one technique I ran into while attending improvisational theatre and the name of the game is “Yes and”.

The idea behind the “Yes and” -technique is following: Person A suggests something or pronounces a sentence. After that person B continues: ”Yes and…”. You always have to reply starting with the words ”Yes and”. That is, starting with ”yes, but”, ”right, but” or ”no” is forbidden.

Why on earth?

Human beings are sensitive creatures and while suggesting something or expressing an opinion they place themselves in a position in which they will face judgment. We crave for acceptance and the feeling that we belong, that we are equal to others. If as a response for each sentence we get a “no” or a “but”, it is very possible that one becomes discouraged or starts to behave in a defensive or offensive manner.

The aim of the “Yes and” -approach is to add, carry forward and develop the original suggestion. In a conversation we tend to reject ideas that differ from ours and without even noticing we end up throwing cold water on others in order to satisfy our will to be right. Sometimes we do have a reason for the rejection and sometimes we don’t, but in most cases there would be other ways to handle the situation.

The “Yes and” -approach makes me listen to what you are really saying.

“Yes and” -approach also increases the interaction in a conversation. First of all, the fact that I have to admit the whole statement ensures that I can’t just stop listening somewhere in the middle. Secondly,  this approach encourages to build your own response on top of the response the other person gave you. This makes the conversation co-operative instead of both individuals building their own hovels on the opposite sides of a brook.

Yes, but… there needs to be a but!

I immediately feel like shouting a couple of buts. But what if the situation necessarily needs a but? But what if I disagree? But what if the other person is simply wrong?

It is true that only in improv it is possible to develop the discussion without any restraints and to agree on any subject with no limits what so ever. In reality there are cases in which you cannot avoid using a but when it is justified to do so. But it is quite rare that you would be forced to start with the words “right, but”.

How to get your message through without abandoning the “Yes and” -approach:

  • Yes, and in theory this could work, but in practice
  • Yes, and I’d like to execute it like that as well, but
  • Yes, and visually that would be rather snazzy, but considering the usability
  • Yes, and if we had the access to [technology x], we could [thing y], but
  • Yes, and this functionality has been very popular for quite a while, but now
  • Yes, and I recently read an article/book/research that backs you up on this, but
  • Yes, and that could very well be included in the next sprint, but
  • Yes, and in addition we could also [add something here]. That’s why it’s such a shame that

The idea is simple, right? You don’t have to start with ”but”. First you can look for the point of view which allows you to agree with the person you are having the conversation with. If you don’t immediately reject the statement of the other, there are better chances that your fellow is willing to listen to your objection. With this method you can also avoid the unnecessary embarrassment that could be caused otherwise. All this will help you get your message through.

While I was googling the name of this approach I found out that I was by no means the only one recommending this. For example the Big Think has wondered whether “Yes, and” might be the most valuable phrase in business already in 2013.

TL; DR: Why “Yes and” -approach is worth trying?

  • If you start all your sentences with ”right, but”, your opponent might react in a defensive or offensive manner.
  • In a situation like this good results are rarely achieved
  • By finding something you can first agree on, the situation will get going more easily.
  • It’s alright to use the word “but” as long as you don’t start with it.

Could it work? Why not? Come and discuss the topic in our Slack.

Or what do you think?

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