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The Power of "Yes, And"

I'm Robert Reid. In addition to being a Principal with Butler Street, I’m also an improv comedian and actor. I have had the opportunity to perform improv for over 20 years and it has had an incredibly positive impact on my life.

So, what is improv? When I ask this question during our workshops, the most common responses I get are “off the cuff,” “made up on the spot” or “spur of the moment” and all of these are correct. In improv, we don’t have a script, a set, props or costumes. Everything we create on stage is 100% made up and our ensemble must really be in tune with each other to pull it off.

What does this all have to do with the business world?

Actually...a lot. And this is the first in a series of blogs in which I will share how using improv concepts can make you a better employee, boss, parent, teacher, toll-booth operator, treasure hunter, shepherd, inmate (ok, I could go on but I should probably stop).

Each blog will focus on one improv technique you can start using today that will have a positive effect on your professional life. For this blog, we’re going to focus on a concept called “Yes, And.” Let’s take a look at a scene to see how it works:

Actor 1: “Captain! Our ship is under attack by a giant squid.”

Actor 2: “YES, AND we should feed it peanut butter crackers to make it go away.”

Remember, Actor 1 made up his line in the moment which meant Actor 2 had no clue what he was going to say but she did the right thing by accepting his idea and building on it using “Yes, And.” If our Captain (Actor 2) had said

"Mom, what are you talking about, we’re eating corn dogs at the county fair”

our scene is dead in the water because the two actors are not on the same page. That is why “Yes, And” is so crucial to collaborating on stage.

By uttering the word “Yes” we tell our brain to accept an idea. When we say the word “And” we've told our brain to add something. Accepting an idea and then adding to it is the winning formula for idea generation and is why “Yes, And” is so powerful. Imagine if we all used this concept in the business world.

Collaboration is a crucial part of any successful team, but it can be a slippery slope especially when the word “No” shows up. There are very few rules in improv but avoiding the word “No” is one of them. “No” is the crusher of all ideas. Let’s take a look at a scene that might play out in an actual office setting and see how counter-productive using the word “No” can be.

Employee: “I think we should equip our sales team with scripts they can use when making sales calls. That way they are prepared and can have more impactful conversations with customers.”

Boss: “No, let’s not make our sales people robots. We should leave well enough alone.”

Well, that idea is dead. By saying “No,” the boss put the brakes on a potentially good idea. How do you think that employee feels? I imagine they feel discouraged and will be reluctant to share good ideas in the future - especially after that experience. Let’s look at how things could have turned out differently if this team was in the practice of using “Yes, And.”

Employee: “I think we should equip our sales team with scripts they can use when making sales calls. That way they are prepared and can have more impactful conversations with customers.”

Boss: “Yes, And I’ll ask our top salespeople to help build out effective scripts. That way, we’ll be sure to get some best practices to the team.”

Much better. By using “Yes, And,” this team is exploring the use of sales scripts and offering ways to improve upon the idea. In addition, that employee now feels like a valued member of the team.

It is important to note that using “Yes, And” does not mean you are accepting every idea; it is simply an effective way to validate contributions and open the door to communication.

Using this technique can ignite collaboration. So, the next time you and your team are brainstorming, remember the power of “Yes, And.”

The techniques improv actors use on stage are easily applied to the business world and yield positive results. We incorporate improv activities in our Sales Effectiveness and Leadership Effectiveness trainings and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Be on the lookout for my next blog, which will introduce a brand-new improv technique that will help you become a super star at your company!

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