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The Power of ‘Yes, and…’ in the Workplace

Topics: Career Advice
What does your job have in common with improv comedy? Both can benefit from the principle of “Yes, and.” Simply put, when a colleague proposes an idea, your response should accept their contribution and build on it, rather than shutting things down.
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Doug Upchurch, global learning innovation strategist for Insights Learning and Development, a people development consulting organization, spoke with PayScale about this simple technique. “Yes, and…” could be a total game changer when it comes to your professional relationships and the way you connect.

“The future workplace is all about working on multiple teams,” Upchurch said. “You’re never just on one team anymore. Everyone’s connecting to lots of different people. So, there is a fundamental skill required now, which is your ability to be a good team member, to be a good colleague.”

“It’s no longer just about being a good leader or a good employee,” he continues. “It’s about what does it look like to be a good team member, and how do you do that in a way that’s really effective?”

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Let’s take a closer look at this technique and how it could shift the way we interact with others in a professional setting. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. It’s really all about listening.

As our workplaces become more collaborative and interactive, it becomes increasingly important that we learn better ways of processing others’ ideas. Instead of shooting down colleagues’ suggestions when we disagree, this method offers an alternative approach. First, we need to listen and carefully consider the idea. Then, we can begin to add to it.

Being a good listener is about making other people feel heard. This is an impossible feat if the listener is mostly thinking about how they’re going to respond. Instead, Upchurch recommends adopting an approach similar to what Stephen Covey referred to as “empathic listening” in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

We’ll be able to more effectively communicate with others by listening carefully to their ideas, considering them, and being sure that we properly understand, before we respond. This leads to better relationships and a better understanding of both people and ideas, which will make us more effective in the workplace. According to Upchurch, it should also help to eliminate some of the wasted time and energy that happens as a result of unnecessary conflict in the office.

  1. Words are powerful.

By using this approach in improv comedy, performers strengthen their ability to work together. The same dynamic should apply when this approach is employed in an office setting.

Words have power. For example, the word “and” feels very different from the word “but.” Upchurch discussed how he came to this idea partially through the work of David Hawkins. His book Power vs Force discusses how significant these small communication choices can be.

“He talked about the fact that when we say ‘but’ we are actually invalidating the previous part of what we just said,” Upchurch told me. “No matter how positive what we’ve just said is, as soon as we say ‘but,’ it invalidates.”

It only takes one word — “no” — to shut things down. Instead, we can choose words that open up a conversation, that leave room for collaboration, for risk taking (trying something new), and for creativity.

“Businesses and leaders have to be agile and resilient. And you cannot be agile and resilient when you’re not able to really be with a group of colleagues, and listen and respond quickly while also making sure you’ve really heard everything what’s been said,” said Upchurch. If we fail to do so, he says, “we end up creating very forced responses.”

  1. Focus on the mindset, not the exact words.

It’s important not to oversimplify the concept. It’s not really just about using the phrase, “Yes, and…” during our interactions at work. Really, this is about listening in a different kind of way — adopting a new approach and mindset when it comes to our communications with others. This can be especially helpful during times of conflict in the office.

When asked what he’d recommend when someone fundamentally disagrees with a colleague’s contribution, Upchurch stressed the importance of making sure the teammates are on the same page.

“If I believe they’ve made a mistake in their judgment, then I may be missing something,” he said. “So I want to ask some questions: ‘Well, have you thought about how what you’re recommending would happen in this scenario?’ ‘What about this other scenario?’ You begin to ask questions to help educate yourself on their perspective, on their point of view, rather than coming in and saying ‘I’m right you’re wrong.’ Because unfortunately many times when we do that, it backfires. But the thing that’s important about this is that it’s not just about the words and saying them in a placating way. It’s about really making sure we hear. So, if we can’t say ‘yes,’ then we need to say ‘tell me more.'”

Engaging in this way helps people feel that their ideas matter. Most importantly, it also helps them feel that they matter and that they’re respected. The hope is that they will return the consideration and employ a collaborative mindset as well.

The concept of utilizing a “Yes, and…” approach and mindset in the workplace is a powerful one. It could dramatically change the way you interact with others and the way they respond to you in turn. Give it a try for yourself and see how it changes your relationships and your work.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you tried employing a “Yes, and…” strategy at work? How did it go? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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Samantha Duthler
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Samantha Duthler

I just read an eye-opening book addressing these very issues. It is called “Getting to ‘Yes, And’: The Art of Business Improv” by Bob Kulhan. He shows how “Yes, and…,” divergent and convergent thinking, and focusing on being present can help people in business have more productive meetings, create stronger collaborations, make better decisions, be mindful, and so much more. If the information in this article resonates with you, I highly recommend this book. http://www.GettingtoYesAnd.com

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