“Yes; and…” is a technique used in improvisational comedy to keep the sketch moving forward. You’re constantly building off of what the previous person said, no matter how ridiculous it was. By leading with “yes,” you’re not only engaging and appreciating your collaborators; you’re remaining open to the possibilities that follow.
In contrast, you could say “no; and…” or “yes; but…”, but in doing so, you’re shutting down creativity and discouraging ideas around you.
Keep in mind that saying “yes” doesn’t mean that you agree with the idea that preceded it. But you’re at least acknowledging the idea. You’re saying, “Yes, I hear you, and what about this?” Saying “yes; and…” lets ideas build upon one another instead of cutting down ideas and starting over from scratch every time.
I’m here to tell you that the “yes; and…” method works well beyond comedic acting. It works with any type of brainstorming. It will improve your relationships–friends, family, coworkers–and better your outlook on life.
Here’s an example that works with the aforementioned roommate. Until about a year ago, I had lived alone for a year. I loved it. But then a friend asked if he could move in for a few months, and instead of immediately dismissing the idea, I said, “Yes; and you can pay me rent.”
That friend moved out, and a few months later, I saw an ad on craigslist from someone looking for a room for a few months. Again, I said yes. Then I got an e-mail at work for someone looking for a place for 5-6 months while she worked for the Shakespeare Festival. I said yes, and now I have an awesome roommate.
Sometimes we’re too quick to say no. “No” can be easy because we don’t have to think about all the possibilities that follow “and.” But if you keep saying “no” to all the possibilities and people in your life, you’re really going to limit yourself.
Just remember that “yes” doesn’t mean “I agree.” When someone asks you to quit your job and go hike in Chile for 6 months, you don’t have to agree to it. But try saying “yes; and…” to see where your mind takes you. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.