I’ve been very impressed with a couple of books about improv comedy and how people are using the rules of improv comedy to improve conversation skills.

In the book Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration–Lessons from The Second City, by Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton, the authors describe the first rule of saying “Yes, and…” systematically in response to other peoples’ ideas.

This opens up a conversation to exploring thoughts between partners. But in reality, saying “Yes, and” is difficult to put into practice, especially for conversations at work.

It requires you to trust that others will support and build upon your contribution and it requires you to do the same for them. In business, support is almost always highly conditional.

  • “I’ll support you as long as I know where this idea is going.”
  • “I’ll support you as long as success is guaranteed.”
  • “I’ll support you as long as there’s something in it for me.”

People don’t like giving up control of the conversation. And yet it’s only when you trust enough to let it happen that surprising innovations happen.

Obviously not every idea is a good idea and there is a time and place for using “Yes, and…” There are times when people have to be told “no.”

Yet too often “no” is the default response to everything. It’s offered as a way to avoid risk and possible failure. It results in customer dissatisfaction, employee disengagement, and lack of innovation.

Responding with “Yes, and…” is a skill that’s useful in deepening interpersonal relationships, teamwork, feedback, brainstorming, conflict resolution, sales negotiations and problem solving.

Saying “Yes, and…” gives conversations energy and forward momentum. It gives people confidence to speak up and participate at their best. It allows individuals and groups to bring their finest selves to a conversation and get the top ideas into the room.

Actually, I’ve learned that responding “Yes, and…” actually saves you a lot of energy and stress. Instead of having to control the conversation or feeling pressure to contribute your own thoughts, you simply let the other person talk while you listen and support.

Anyone who’s in a managerial position finds this hard to learn and put into practice. Managers, and those who aspire to be one, think they have to have the answers. But when you’re working with a coach, you learn that often the best response is to not say anything and to just listen.

What’s your opinion? I’d love to hear from you. If you’ve got questions, let’s talk. You can reach me here or on LinkedIn.