Yes, and – not But

Improvisational comedy, like all team sports is about effective, high-energy, spontaneous collaboration. One of the seven major tenets of Improv is building off each person’s comment and suggestion with “Yes, and…” rather than dismissing it with a “but…”.

“Yes, and…” extends, explores, and enhances the previous suggestion – building trust among all the team members, moving the entire team closer to a successful solution. “But…” stalls the conversation. Cold. Even worse than dismissing the initial suggestion, team members are now second-guessing their solutions to the problems for fear it will be destroyed by the next “but..” This provides a disincentive to solving to the current problem. Turning the team and project into the stagnant, stereotypical office meeting blah. On a related note, questions frequently have a similar effect on teams – see Stop Asking Questions.

In working with different teams, I’ve heard “but..” used in 3 major ways. Though each usage may not contradict the preceding statement, it does stall the conversation and turns a peer-to-peer collaborative opportunity into a unequal power play.

    The 5 Breeds of ‘But’:

  1. “I have information you, the ignorant peon, didn’t consider.”
  2. “A different team tried that under different circumstances, so it won’t ever work.”
  3. “I don’t want to do and don’t actually want to be involved in this project.”
  4. “I have something off-topic to say, and don’t know how else to make my opinion heard.”
  5. and my own personal favorite:

  6. “I completely agree with you and want to take credit for your suggestion.”

    Here are 3 tips for transforming a serial “but” into a ‘yes, and’:

  1. Firmly focus on starting a solution.
    The final solution is rarely needed immediately. An initial starting point and direction will go far in gaining forward momentum. This means any solution is viable, and the objection raised in the ‘but’ can be addressed when it arises.
  2. Question specifically how the ‘but’ affects the situation at hand.
    This is a simple and effective way to specifically identify which one of the 5 breeds of ‘but’ you’re dealing with.
  3. Force the ‘but’ into a solution
    For often entertaining results, have the offender, repeat the statement back substituting ‘yes, and’ for the offending ‘but’.
  4. Completely ignore the ‘but’.
    There’s a fair chance, the objection is a defensive reaction to a fleeting situation. This is especially true for a #1’but’.

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