Yes And, No
By: Andrew Bogue

How many times have you said “no” today? It might not be the first number you think of as you go through the motions of your daily routine. However, at the end of a long workday, counting up your number of negative responses might turn out to be a tall order. In a world of buzzing cellphone reminders and constant calendar updates, we are accustomed to hearing some form of “no” on repeat every day.

Sure, there are situations when the word “no” may be unavoidable:

“No, I can’t eat the peanuts because I have an allergy.”
“No, I will not be able to attend the meeting due to a flight delay.”
“No, I don’t know who blew up the Lean Cuisine in the microwave.”

But beware – there is a more dangerous type of “no” that exists; one that suffocates creativity and stops a potential idea’s growth before it has the chance to take root. This is the “no” of comfort. Think of these comfortable responses as times when a negative choice is made not by necessity, but rather from unwillingness to try new things and support others.

How many times have you heard these phrases?

“No, we’ve always done it this way.”
“No, I’ll just do it myself.”
“No, that is a bad idea!”

The more we decline offers for support, collaboration, and agreement in the workplace, the less likely it is that creativity will be able to thrive. A positive, open corporate culture is more important than ever, so why do we keep coming back to “no”? It may be surprising, but a solution to this cycle of disagreement can actually be found in the teachings of improvisational comedy.

The first rule most improvisers learn is the concept of, “Yes, and.” In short, this theory recognizes the importance of agreement and sets an expectation of positive acceptance of whatever occurs. If your stage partner decides the two of you are in outer space, you simply agree and float along for the ride. Saying “yes” opens doors, shooting down ideas with a dismissive “no” closes them.

Charna Halpern, co-founder of Chicago’s famed iO Theater, explains this concept in more depth in her book “Truth in Comedy.” Halpren writes,

“This is why there is no such thing as a ‘bad idea’ in improv. Players take each other’s ideas—no matter what they are—and make them work. As we know, the actor’s business is to justify. One person’s idea becomes the collective idea of the group, and is therefore played brilliantly.”

“Yes, and” is not exclusive to the stage. It may be the “actor’s business” to justify, but surely it is every team member’s business to succeed. The best way to do so is through positive reinforcement and collaborative support.

Today, I challenge you to apply “Yes, and” to your normal routine in any way you can think of. Sometimes, making a small change, accepting a new idea, and adding your unique spin to it can make all the difference:

“Yes, and I would love another pair of eyes on this project”
“Yes, and your new angle might grab their attention”
“Yes, and who’s next?”