I want to “Yes, And” You
No, it’s not a euphemism but a golden rule in improvisation and a comedy tool which I regularly bring into coaching and business.
Now this is nothing new – you have probably come across it before, however, it pays dividends whether you are forging relationships, creating business or just having a conversation.
With the ever changing ways of working it's high time we had a reminder of the power of “yes, and”
Improv & I
Improvised comedy is a core hobby of mine and has served me very well in all walks of life; especially when it comes to coaching and forging relationships – with clients, contacts, friends and even the odd romantic endeavour now & then.
I’ve always wanted to write a piece on this simple concept; however, I was a bit concerned that it was almost too simple.
I’ve got over that so here we go.
What is “Yes, And”?
Simply put, it is the acceptance of an offer and then building on that offer.
There are several forms of Improv and not to get too technical or dull, essentially there are 2 mains ones:
Long form improv where you create a longer story with several scenes and a story arc.
Short form improv with short, often very funny mini-scenes – think Whose Line Is It Anyway? This is the one I love as you get to play and create so much with a huge variety of scenes and characters. You get to “yes and” a lot.
In improvisation nothing is scripted, everything is made up on the spot, therefore, whatever ideas or offers you fellow performers come with, it is vital to accept them. To “yes” them.
If you don’t accept then you will block those offers and the scene will, well pretty much go nowhere.
To keep the scene moving forwards we now need to bring in “and” as this builds on that initial idea. We can do this by introducing more ideas into the mix, by adding colour to the scene in terms of our characterisation, creating atmosphere, growing the importance of what the characters are doing by them being fully invested in their purpose – their why.
For me – this investment is crucial to creating entertaining, ‘good’ improvisation. When the performers are fully committed to their character, their purpose and their actions then they enrapture the audience, who stay with the players throughout the scene.
Rapport is built as the audience want those characters to triumph as they join them on their journey however random or bonkers it may be.
For example, a scene is set - we have 2 shepherds, shepherding their sheep. One comes up with a brilliant idea – what if we could breed different coloured sheep for a multitude of woollen colours. Cut out the dying industry and make a fortune! The other shepherd loves this idea and suggest they could breed patterned sheep. And off they go on their madcap adventure of sheep breeding.
It may sound ridiculous, however, if we add in the sheep, the mad scientists, the delighted knitting guilds, the outraged dye industry unions – all of that input and colour to create a rich scenario you have a wonderful scene with investment and action.
How do I use this in coaching?
Well quite simply really – I allow my clients to explore their ‘madcap’ ideas, their dreams – all the things that they thought were impossible because someone, somewhere along the lines shut them down and blocked them. Simply put - I "yes" them.
They may have put up their own internal blocks by believing they don’t have enough time, money, confidence to go for it – whatever ‘it’ may be and many of my clients no longer believe in their ideas or dreams.
Now, sometimes, these ideas may l be farfetched, they may sound impossible, however, once that person is given the acceptance “yes” to really delve into that idea, to explore it fully and talk it through with a coach who listens and asks open ended questions to allow them to build on that idea they begin to see the opportunities and ways forward.
As I "and" their ideas to allow this exploration and growth the blocks begin to fall away as now my clients can see what is possible, they can decide whether or not they really want to go for it.
Perhaps 'it' is a total career change, an industry jump, having the courage to start their own business. Whatever 'it' is, they can now see what they can do to make it happen and how they can do so.
This is another rule in improv – don’t just talk – do. Nothing is more boring than watching 2 characters talk about what they plan to do whilst not actually taking action. You are just watching 2 people talk on stage - no colour, no action is added. Improv coaches and tutors working improvisers can be heard shouting out the key phrase "Just F*****g Do It!"
Rather than shouting at my clients, I prefer for them to leave our sessions with an action plan that takes them closer to realising their ideas & dreams. This has to be a feasible plan for them - taking on too much means they will be overwhelmed and doing too little leads to lack of motivation.
I can then see how invested they are in their plans by whether or not they carry out those actions. Often other underlying blocks such as certain limiting beliefs appear which we work on.
Using “Yes… And” in business
How do we bring this concept into business?
Number one is to listen so that the person bringing an idea is fully heard and feels that their idea has been accepted.
Once we start saying yes to ideas and asking for more information to build on them, we show we are supportive, motivational, encouraging – positive
Bear in mind that this is not “yes, but” – a classic blocker. Along with:
“We did that a few years ago. Didn’t work”
“Doubt we have the budget for that one”
"You’ll definitely need to get approval, and that probably won’t happen”
You may think the idea will go no-where, perhaps you have tried it before and perhaps it didn’t work – but what if you probed into the idea, the potential solution to a sticky problem? What if you built on it by adding your own ideas and asking others to get involved?
What if you gave a madcap idea a chance this time?
The Benefits of saying “Yes…And”
Create something out of nothing
Engaged employees who are not afraid to try new things
Constant innovation & diverse thinking
Invested & cohesive teams
In fact, the “yes, but” can incite conflict and meetings of idea generation often result in various ego’s battling it out for the spotlight.
We see this in improv when performers are desperate to play out their idea for a scene – so much so they stop listening to what is happening and try override everyone else with their idea. It becomes a show of the biggest ego. Frankly it is rude to fellow performers and highly uncomfortable to watch let alone perform in. I am sure we have all experienced meetings or workshops of a similar nature.
Improv, just like coaching and business, is a collaboration – sometimes we need to stop hammering home our agenda all the time and give the floor to others whilst supporting and encouraging them.
If those ideas really don’t work, then we can at least say we have given them a thorough exploration and chance. We can keep motivating our people to continue to make offers and create a safe space for failure, which is after all the First Attempt In Learning.
Google actively encourages its developers to fail so that they continue to bring ideas, they continue to learn and collaborate, spark ideas off of each other and discover what may or may not work.
Once we have committed to hearing that idea, exploring it fully – who knows what opportunities and possibilities may arise…
Key Take Concepts
1. Listen – fully
2. Accept and endorse by saying “yes”
3. Build and go further by saying “and…”
4. Fully commit to that offer/idea
5. Remove the blocks and “but”
6. Take action