• Terry Withers

YES AND... AND!


Yes And. Select any random person, ask them what they know about improv comedy and you’ve got about a coin flip’s chance of hearing them say, “Yes And.”


And no wonder.


These two little words form the backbone of improv comedy training worldwide, which might be summarized as:


STEP 1 - Embrace your partner’s ideas (that’s the Yes)

STEP 2 - Add something of your own (that’s the And)

STEP 3 - Rinse & repeat until your improv scene is over


Here’s Tina Fey explaining the concept better than I can, in case you’re unfamiliar with it.


And here is an exercise commonly used to share this concept at improv based corporate workshops. If you’re in Learning & Development or ever attended an at-work improv team building workshop, you are most likely already familiar with Yes And Conversations.


Turns out Yes And is just as valuable to workplace collaboration as it is to improv comedy.


In a nutshell, saying Yes And to a colleague allows you to game out ideas much faster than saying No or Yes But (which is really just a polite way of saying no).


Just as important, saying Yes to a colleague tells them that you value their ideas. It encourages them to share their expertise in the future.


If any of this strikes you as interesting but not obvious, consider reading through the exercise instructions for Yes And Conversations and the associated talking points. And feel free to reach out to me directly with any questions on implementation or expected results.


Now a lot of people have beaten me to the punch when it comes to writing about Yes And. (Is it okay to call blogging writing?)


What I thought I could add to the conversation is to list a few of the hyper-specific subvariations of Yes And along with a quick analysis of the unique value each brings to the act of collaboration.


If any of the below strike you as particularly interesting or potentially valuable for your workplace, you can run Yes And Conversations and substitute these in for any of the standard three options, or add them on at the end.



YES BECAUSE

- Providing Your Colleague With A Why


A Yes Because response forces you to not ony agree, but to really get your arms around and comprehend your colleague’s suggestion. After all, if you don’t really understand what they are saying, it is going to be very hard to offer an argument as to why it is true.


Consider the below exchange, first with a Yes And response and then with a Yes Because one.


OFFER: I’d like to start keeping a jar of pens by the reception desk for patients when they first enter our office.


YES AND RESPONSE: Yes, sounds great! And I’d like to start keeping extra winter coats in the storage closet.


Okay so technically that is a Yes And response. Although it has almost nothing to do with the first person’s suggestion. Sure, a good teacher would specify that your Yes And response should fit logically with what it is being added to…


But Yes Because naturally directs you to logically connect your statement to what came before.


OFFER: I’d like to start keeping a jar of pens by the reception desk for guests when they first enter our office.


YES BECAUSE RESPONSE: Yes, we need to do that, because our new patients often have nothing to use when filling out the forms we give them.


A pretty big difference. A teammate who receives a response like will know that they were heard and understood. Plus, you’ve made a more substantial contribution by adding valuable insight into why your colleague’s idea is a good one.



YES OF COURSE!

- Empowering your colleague


Now, there’s a little bit of the Because in Of Course. So you are still inclined to provide something of an explanation when using Yes Of Course!


But the defining thing about a Yes Of Course! response, is the unadulterated enthusiasm it showers on the person it is directed at.


Yes Of Course! doesn’t just say you’re right, it says that you are obviously right.


Think about how good it would feel to hear something like that in response to a suggestion you made.


There’s also a little bit of a Eureka! element to it, isn’t there? An almost Sherlock Holmes-ian celebration of a mystery finally solved.


It’s gotta be pretty great to have a Eureka directed at one of your ideas.


I mention the emotional impact of these statements, because so much of building a great team comes down to getting everyone on the team to fully participate. Whether an individual’s most recent idea deserves a loud Of Course! is almost beside the point.


You want your teammates to feel like their ideas will be celebrated, that way they’ll share them.


For all these reasons, running Yes And Conversations with a Yes Of Course! response is a particularly appropriate decision for groups looking to team build. Nothing gets you on board with another person as much as hearing that person exuberantly agree with you.


Let’s take a look at how a Yes Of Course! Response differs from a simple Yes And one.


OFFER: I was thinking we could host a barbecue this summer, for employees and their families.


YES AND RESPONSE: Yes, let’s do that. And I can get the grills from Stephanie in HR. I remember her telling me that her brother has a few extras.


Okay, from a Yes And perspective this is a perfectly great response. Nothing wrong with it. It builds on the first person’s ideas after accepting them.


How would Yes Of Course! differ?


OFFER: I was thinking we could host a barbecue this summer, for employees and their families.


YES OF COURSE RESPONSE: Yes, of course let’s do that! The entire department has been disjointed because of all the remote work. This addresses that need in a safe, outdoor environment.


A very different response. One that acknowledges the thought and intelligence behind the initial suggestion of having a barbecue. One that celebrates that suggestion, in fact.


Teams that routinely offer this kind of unbridled support are often thought of as great teams. That’s because everyone on them is fully participating.


Sure, it’s not for every environment or every moment, but you may want to explore what a Yes Of Course! attitude can do for your team.



YES EVEN IF

- Solve your own problems


This is one of my favorite variations of Yes And. It works particularly well for team members with personalities that are naturally suspicious of blindly accepting proposals. A Yes Even If response allows an individual to give voice to concerns while also offering solutions for them.


Consider:


OFFER: I think it is time to change the company logo.


YES EVEN IF RESPONSE: Yes, even if our clients have associated our business with our current logo for the last 50 years, we can’t afford to grow stagnant.


This response says yes to the initial idea. Then raises a very reasonable concern, the loss of a valuable brand touchstone that took decades to create.


Finally the response tells us why, even in the face of these concerns, the initial suggestion was wise.


I wonder if you noticed how that worked.


People who offer lots of objections to new proposals are often very intelligent critical thinkers. They can see a thousand problems with every idea. Rather than asking such critical thinkers to fight against their natural inclinations, a Yes Even If response uses a critical thinker’s ability to poke holes in their own critical thinking!


Let’s break that down.


Person 1 suggests a new logo. Our critical thinker is worried about the sudden loss of brand identity. But then the same critical thinker uses their own innate skepticism to point out what is off with their own objection. Namely, that sticking with a logo indefinitely risks the brand becoming stagnant.


If you run Yes And Conversations for a group and a lot of them tell you afterwards that their favorite responses were the Yes But responses, that’s a good indication that you have a lot of critical thinkers on your hands. Trying the Yes Even If variation with a group like this could yield some surprisingly great results.


Now I can hear some of you getting very uncomfortable. Is this guy telling me to change my logo at the drop of a hat? Check out the last segment of this post, designated with three asterisks (***) for some thoughts on how to appropriately think about applying the lessons of Yes And Conversations in your office.



YES BROADLY

- Agreeing even when you can’t


Sometimes there will be a suggestion offered that you can’t say Yes to. This may be because the idea is dangerously bad or it might have to do with your personality. (“I just can’t say yes to company Moo Moos!”)


One way to employ some of the value of YES AND when you can’t say Yes fully is to try a Yes Broadly response.


Some examples:


OFFER: What if we tried growing our employee pension fund by gambling with the money at a local casino?


YES BROADLY RESPONSE: Yes, great idea. Broadly speaking I’m always looking for new strategies to grow our employee pension fund. I’ll add this one to my list for consideration.


Now I know, and it is fair to observe that Yes Broadly is pretty close to Yes But. It is mostly a polite way of saying No.


But I prefer saying No this way, it feels softer and more encouraging. Plus, it has the added benefit of focusing your mind in the direction of how the suggestion was good.


Consider a Yes But response to the same offer.


OFFER: What if we tried growing our employee pension fund by gambling with the money at a local casino?


YES BUT: Yes, but we would go to prison for fraud.


That response, while legally perfect, focuses our minds on what is wrong with the suggestion. The Yes Broadly Response focuses our mind on what was right and good about it.


It’s right that a company should want to grow their employee pension fund. And it is good to think of all options and consider them.


That’s a friendlier, more supportive fashion in which to dismiss a bad idea and your colleagues will appreciate the encouragement and direction (Don’t bring me ideas that will land me in prison) that come with it.



OTHER VARIATIONS


Maybe I’ll write a follow up post with some deeper cut variations in a few months. There are some fun ones, including:


  • Yes Honestly

  • Yes Fatally (This is probably better left for comedy classes, but there is workplace application.)

  • Yes Very

  • Yes Wisely

  • Yes Helplessly

  • Yes Albeit (Which is just a less effective version of Yes Even If, except that the word albeit is way funnier than the words even if.)


If you can’t wait for the next post, you could try simply running Yes And Conversations and observing for yourself what different types of responses seem to result from each variation. No doubt, you’ll notice consistent tendencies with each variation.



***Addendum


I’ll note, Yes And Conversations is an exercise designed to showcase the power of a team supporting each other’s ideas. Working in the fashion means saying yes initially to every idea, but then reviewing those ideas to separate the wheat from the chaff. It does not mean that every idea suggested, or even encouraged, is immediately acted on.


It’s powerful to say Yes to a teammate’s observation that a new logo could be a good idea. By saying Yes you begin to build out what creating and unveiling a new logo might look like. Now that the idea is more fully fleshed out it can be more fully reviewed.


In my experience, bad ideas become very obvious once you’ve fleshed them out and the people who originally suggested them won’t be offended when they are not pursued given their obvious drawbacks.


Dismissing ideas right away, or throwing up obstacles right away, is much more likely to be met with resentment.


Yes And Conversations offers a strategy then, for developing and reviewing ideas while building team camaraderie and empowerment.




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