As a communicator, I love to watch really good improv groups. The ability to think quickly and clearly is both a gift and a learned skill. As with most things that appear to be spontaneous, there is actually a fair amount of practice involved. Much of the practice has to do with retraining the instincts of the performer.
The first — and most basic — rule of improv is called the “Yes, and” rule. It’s designed to keep the scene open and moving. Saying “no” is akin to closing the door. It closes the sentence or stops the action. It becomes a conversational wall that must be navigated around. “Yes, and” is an invitation to continue.
In life, there are many times it is appropriate to say “no” to something or someone. In fact, the ability to say no well is an important to have as a leader, pastor, or parent. It helps maintain healthy boundaries. It forces organizations to be clear about what is and isn’t a priority.
However, there are many times when we say “no” when we would be better served to say, “Yes, and …”
For example, in a brainstorming session, the goal is to throw out as many ideas as possible in order to get to the best ideas. What is the best way to kill a brainstorming session? Just say “no” a few times and people will stop offering new ideas. But what if you chose to say “Yes, and” instead — even if you didn’t like the idea? “I hear what you’re saying and what if we tried this, too …”
How many potential ideas and initiatives have died at the hands of a premature “no”?
How many ideas have you failed to act on because your first instinct was a “no” — “No, I couldn’t do this” or “Nobody would be interested in this”?
A “Yes, and” attitude keeps us open to new possibilities. It provides the necessary time for ideas to develop. Rather than stifling and discouraging idea generation, it encourages our teammates to continue thinking and experimenting.
So, the next time you find yourself tempted to say “No” to an idea, try to extend the conversation with a “Yes, and” instead and see where it goes. You can always say no later on. Or, you might not need to.