Some of the most valuable and interesting coaching I’ve ever had took place on an 8-week improv comedy course in Melbourne, Australia.
It forced me to lean into emotions I’ve always felt uncomfortable with. It showed me how hard (and important) it is to listen not just to *what* but to *how* folks communicate. It was the first time since childhood that I re-learned how to feel silly and take risks and be playful in a room full of strangers.
But perhaps the most valuable thing that I learned was “Yes and…”
Two simple words that, if you master them, will rapidly 10x your relationships.
The next time you’re talking or listening to someone, I want you to watch for two things:
- “No”; and
- “Yes, but…”
You may not hear those words exactly. What you’re listening for is a contradiction or deflection away from what’s just finished being said.
Because here’s the thing, we all spend too much time communicating like we’re in a verbal tug of war. So much so, that if you isolate one person’s side of a conversation from the other and listen back to them separately, you’d be surprised how often they’d sound like two entirely different trains of thought.
Mostly we don’t even realise it. And It’s not that we’re trying to take control.
It’s simply that we’re often so absorbed in our own thoughts and emotions that we can’t help but hijack the next segment to inject OUR take or opinion or perspective, even if it’s totally unrelated.
Result? Communication without connection.
Conversations where everyone talks and yet nobody really feels heard.
Solution? Try “Yes and…”
The next time you’re talking with anyone, put your own thoughts and ideas and desires to the side for just a moment and decide to really listen to what they say.
Watch their face. Listen to their words. Try and feel what they’re feeling.
DON’T think about what you’ll say next while they’re talking.
DO wait for them to finish. (Wait for two-seconds of silence.)
Then BUILD on the point they’ve just made.
Here are a few quick examples:
Person One: “I really enjoyed that movie.”
- No: “Oh really? I didn’t really like it.”
- Yes but…: “Yes. But it would have been better if…”
- Yes and…: “Yes. And it was great to be back in a theatre.”
(Note: This is a good example of how you don’t have to lie to say “Yes and…” It’s not about agreeing, it’s about building on emotion and intention.)
Person One: “Why don’t we try out that restaurant?”
- No: “Ah, I’ve heard bad things about it.”
- Yes but…: “Yes. But I also want to try this one…”
- Yes and…: “Yes. I’ll organise the sitter.”
Person One: “I’m feeling really sad.”
- No: “Don’t worry. Your just tired.”
- Yes but…: “Yes. But you’ll be OK.”
- Yes and…: “Yes. You seem down. I wish I could make you feel better.”
Can you see the subtle difference in the tone and direction of each reply?
Can you imagine what happens to the energy and dynamic of interactions when TWO people both say “Yes and…” again and again and again?
This dynamic, this leaning in, this listening to, this consciously building on not just *what* but *how* people communicate is the foundation of improv comedy.
It’s also one of the most powerful and generous and rewarding things you can do more of for the people around you.
To say “Yes and…” is to say “Yes. I see you. I hear you. I find you interesting and important. I value and respect your perspective. I’m on your team.”
And it’s something you can start doing right away.
Of course, like all great ideas, this one is simple but not easy.
It takes mindfulness and hard work and practise. It’s dispiriting to realise how much “No” and “Yes but…” is going on around you when you listen for it.
It’s hard to keep going when you’re not getting any “Yes and…” back.
But if you stick at it…
If you can find one more way to say “Yes and…” every day…
If you can resist saying “No” or “Yes but…” when your tired or disinterested or uncomfortable…
If you can keep going, no matter what you get in return…
Then you’ll find something magical happens.
You listen more. You’ll learn more. You’ll have better and better conversations.
And, with time, the quality of your relationships will reflect that.
You’ll make more people feel more happy when they talk to you.
You’ll find more people will WANT to talk to you in the first place.
So here are my closing questions for today:
- Who do you often say “No” or “Yes but…” to?
- What’s the worst that can happen if you try out “Yes and…”? and
- When specifically today can you put this new tool to the test?
Let me know how you get along.
This is something I’m constantly working on and I’d love to hear your stories.
And until next time, be awesome, say “Yes and…” and go well.