Why “Yes, and…” Might Be the Most Valuable Phrase in Business.
Bob Kulhan is an Adjunct Professor of Business Administration for The Fuqua School of Business, Duke University. He also is the CEO of Business Improvisations, based out of Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. For over fifteen years Bob has performed and taught improvisation internationally. His teaching and performing credits include Chicago's famed Second City (master artist in residence), Improv Olympic (resident company/faculty), Columbia College, London TheaterSports, The Banff Centre, The Australian Graduate School of Management, UCLA Anderson School of Management, Columbia University Business School, and Duke University’s The Fuqua School of Business.
His consulting and teaching work in leadership and managerial improvisation includes emphases on team skills, fostering a collaborative corporate culture, whole body listening, busting blocks to creativity, conflict management, dyadic relationships, creative and adaptive problem solving, leadership, and fostering creative cultures. Since 1998, his customized Business Improvisations programs have benefited a number of companies, including Young Presidents Organization, FOSSAC, Ford Motor Company, Risk Insurance Management Society (RIMS), Cushman & Wakefield, The University of Notre Dame: Renovare, SAS, Mazda, American Express Cards, Glaxo Smith Kline, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, PepsiCo, Capital One, and Procter & Gamble, R&D University.
The Intangible: Earn Trust. Be Relatable. Be Influential. Be Creative. Level Status. Resolve Conflict. Leverage Talent. Build Strong Teams.
The Tangible: “Yes, And…”
Outside of an awfully good oxymoron, and with all due respect to a “red herring,” there are few two-word expressions that are as powerful as “Yes, and...”. “Yes, and...” is as effective in the boardroom as it is in the bedroom. It is as practical in a brainstorming session as it is in a debate. It is as striking in negotiating a sale as it is in strengthening a team. “Yes, and...” is cross functional, cross situational, cross cultural, and, once the concept is understood and practiced, truly universal.
“Yes, and...” – Two simple words. Separate, each serves a function (“Yes” – affirmation, positive confirmation, consent; “And” – an addition to, a transition, a connector), and when used together they serve as the cornerstone of communication and the bedrock of brainstorming.
"Yes" means accepting an idea for exactly what it is worth, regardless from where it came; regardless of what it means; and regardless of what you think it means based on from where it came.
"And" means taking that idea and building directly off of it, without trying to forcibly change it or inject an individual agenda.
In a corporate setting “Yes, and...” can be used as a tool for strengthening communication, staying in the moment, alleviating conflict, facilitating exploration, and creating supportive environments.
And what about “No”?
“No” is valid. “No” is succinct. “No” is direct. “No” is definitive.
Sometimes “No” is needed, warranted, and the only correct response. Projects must get done and they must get done correctly.
There is no question: sometimes “No” is the best answer.
As “No” is just, so too are conflict and debate, both of which are sufficient tools for expressing opposing opinions, exploring, and, if used duly, finding common ground.
However, too often “no” is a knee-jerk response formed out of a preexisting habit; conflict, often escalating to argument, is not based out of mutual respect; and debate is not exercised as a tool for communicating differing opinions, but rather served as an excuse for stubbornly representing individual agenda and driving one’s thoughts down a sparring partner’s gullet – the concept of changing someone’s mind as opposed to compromise, exploration, and discovery. Frequently, time constraints, multiple projects, and external pressures dictate that “No” is exercised early and often.
"Yes, and..." encourages each of us to act and react cognitively, in the moment, rather than subconsciously, through force of habit. It is important to understand "Yes, and..." (as well as how it differs from “Yes, But…” and “No”) so that a conscious decision on when and how to use it can be made.
Use “Yes, and…” to…..
Build Strong Teams
Earn trust from your peers and team by understanding and using “Yes, and...” “Yes, and...” is a tool for strengthening communication skills, staying engaged in the moment, building relationships, leveling status, resolving conflicts, and creating a safe environment to share ideas, concerns, questions, and comments openly and without inhibition.
The technical name for brainstorming is "nonjudgmental ideation" (i.e. suspending judgment long enough to come up with ideas). "Yes, and..." is the understructure for suspending judgment. In "Yes, and..." the acceptance of another's idea does not come with qualifiers, restrictions or judgment; rather it comes freely, unabashedly, and openly.
There is a great difference between being a "Yes Man" and saying "Yes, And...." We want diversity. We need unique perspectives. A difference in opinion can be enlightening and inspiring. Individuality is an imperative. And, without sacrificing personal character, we need everyone to work toward the same goals.
“Yes, and...” facilitates communication by enabling you to voice your own perspective while acknowledging what others are saying. It is through this continual exchange of thoughts that we are able to find the common threads of truth within the conflict, and great potential of resolution is ever-present.
Honest, respect-based communication serves as a foundation block to building a safe environment wherein the ideas communicated within the group are not judged on the basis of who said the idea, but rather on the merit of the idea itself and how it fits into the overall agenda of the group or project. “Yes, and...” is a device for creating a safe environment by encouraging the articulation of the individual perspectives of each teammate, acknowledging the importance of each opinion, accepting the ideas for exactly what they are worth, and providing a means of collecting ideas without judgment. When this environment is established, it is easy to leverage talent and maintain a strong, supportive team.
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