Conversations at work can often feel more like political debates and battles between egos. People with strong points of view argue and debate without anyone moving toward solutions or common goals. Yet it’s difficult to know how to improve conversations skills at work.
Collaboration is difficult when conversations are competitive. Instead of dialoging together, co-workers try to outdo each other. Without fully listening, people are forming their own thoughts, just waiting their turn to jump in.
A common response to new ideas is often “No,” or “Yes, but…” followed by “That wouldn’t work and I’ll tell you why.”
What if we could improve conversation skills so that everyone—supervisors, team leaders or individuals—can connect more by engaging in creative, collaborative dialogue? Instead of debating differences and promoting our own opinions, the discussions would be supportive, friendly and fun.
Here’s a suggestion: Simply replacing “no” with a response of “yes, and…” can make all the difference. This conversational rule comes from improvisational theater. The way improv comedians are trained turns out to be excellent for improving conversations at work as well.
The Rules of Improv Comedy
Second City Works has been offering training to organizations for decades now because the same skills required for comedians on stage are also effective for communicating in companies.
Improvisational training improves people’s ability to process on the fly, relinquish power struggles, create space for everyone to contribute, and learn how to learn from failure. People use the rules of improv to increase their capacity for innovation, creativity and confidence.
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 how the same improv skills used to create funny scenes can also improve emotional intelligence, increase creativity, and teach you to pivot out of tight and uncomfortable situations.
Improv comedians share the common goal of a lasting interaction and a deep connection with their co-players and the audience. Above all else, players aim for flow. When you think about it, these are similar goals required of people working together in business today.
In the work I do coaching people in organizations, I’m always surprised at how often people use the phrase “Yes, but.” It seems we are more easily geared for spotting the “buts” instead of the “ands.”