Yes, And

It's mid-term school break.  Chilling by the beach while watching my daughter play with her friends, I'm amazed by the care-free, open & pure joy expressions of these little girls.  They remind me of a simple yet powerful improv principle I experienced at a team offsite years ago: the "Yes, And" approach.

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In the exercise, we were paired up to have a conversation about a topic of our choosing.  We were asked to limit our responses to start with "Yes, And", and to keep bouncing back and forth without pausing to analyze the responses.  At first, I was skeptical if anything meaningful would come out from such conversation. The awkwardness of the group, who met as a team for the first time following a re-organization, was clearly visible having heard the instruction.

It turned out to be really fun.  The energy picked up as the exercise progressed.  Instead of coming up with a smart or right response, the focus was to listen attentively to our partner, acknowledge and build on.  Once done with the exercise, I was pleasantly surprised to see how this light-hearted principle is highly applicable in the corporate world. 

When was the last time your colleague responded to your idea with a "I hear what you're saying, BUT"?  Did you feel heard, or felt disagreed right away?  "But" negates, likely shuts down an idea.  In contrast, "Yes, And" changes the tone of the conversation.  It acknowledges what the other person has said and opens the flow.  

You can disagree without disregarding the other person’s perspectives. I also learned that in order to build upon what the other has said, it requires one to be fully present, listen deeply, and contribute freely.

That's what these kids are doing.  No matter whose or what idea , the others can't wait to jump in with "Ya! AND…".  They build upon each other's ideas.  And then they explore together or laugh their lungs out when they hear how out-of-this-world their co-created idea has become.  They are fully present with one another, oblivious to everything else that was going on around them, accepting, playing, having a great time. 

So give it a try.  For the next 24 hours, banish "but" from your vocabulary.  Whenever you feel compel to say "but", replace with "Yes, And…."  See what difference one simple tweak will make to your day.  And I would love to hear them!

Jacinta Quah