Leadership Tactic #43: Yes; and…

A few weeks ago, my roommate (an actress) and I were discussing the merits of “yes; and…”

“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.

11 thoughts on “Leadership Tactic #43: Yes; and…”

  1. By crazy coincidence, I’m researching emotional intelligence for a course I’m putting together about leadership flexibility/adaptability (a portion of EI), and this concept (“yes, and”) in contrast to “yes, but” is a focus of some of the material I’ve been reading. The article discusses it in the context of maintaining a balance between emotion and action. Often the part of a sentence before an “and” or “but” is a reaction to what another person has just stated or asked, and the portion after the conjunction is a subsequent action. A “but” innately conveys that your action (or opinion) supercedes your reaction to the person, but an “and” conveys equal footing. I’ll show you the article soon.

  2. I love “yes and” for all aspects of life. Adopting that mentality in the months before I left NYC led me to some of my favorite nights out, day trips etc.

    Another theater trick (this one is specific to collaboration) I learned that has proven to be immeasurably useful in non-theater contexts: “everyone else’s idea is equally or more important than your own” — this may not actually be true, but if everyone in a group adopts this general mentality, collaboration and ideas exchange flow much more readily. No one is fighting to get their voice heard because everyone is encouraging you to speak up. It’s great!

    • Very interesting, Elissa. That totally makes sense. Like you said, in some ways these are just mental tricks, but especially for collaboration (and adventure), they definitely work.

  3. Didn’t Troy and Abed recently do a hilarious take on “yes, and” in the tag at the end of the show, but Troy ended up just saying “and” every time and throwing it back to Abed to fill in the rest?

  4. I LOVE this theory! T-Mac: do you happen to have the name of that article? I’m dying to read it now.

    And for the record: I’m so glad that there are people who will say “Yes; and…” when I am homeless. May this always be so. And may they always bring me cupcakes and have really cool cats.

    • See everyone! I’m not the only one who thinks Biddy is cool. Although last night he was NOT cool. He played all night…not just with his toys, but also with my chapstick. Don’t touch my chapstick.


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