This simple heuristic comes from improv theater (among other places, I’m sure) and is used to keep a scene going. When it looks like a scene may be coming to an end prematurely, one actor can say (or think to themselves) “yes, and…” and this often spurs the group to find a new direction to take it, to keep the scene alive and evolving.
In life, using this simple phrase as a mantra can be extremely useful in finding ways around stumbling blocks: in a relationship, working through a bottleneck at work, or even overcoming what’s still called “writer’s block” (more on that to come, trust me). How about an example:
If you find yourself in a situation like what I discussed in my last short post, saying something along the lines of “damn, why did they screw me over on that presentation?” Take a step back and look at it this way instead, “damn, what can I do to change the outcome here?” The first is a version of “no, but” in that you’re saying there’s nothing you can do since someone else cause the situation, only they can remedy it. Someone else jacked your credit for the big presentation, that sucks.
Rather than waiting for them to apologize and send an email to the CEO explaining that it was really you who did everything, saying “yes, and” lets you start exploring ways you can move forward, now. “Yeah, that guy totally jacked credit for the hours of work I put into researching and compiling those stats. Maybe I can be sure the execs have access to my research documentation and know they can always come to me with questions?” Now you’re putting yourself forward as the subject matter expert, without stooping to the same level as your credit-jacker by throwing them under the bus.
You just said, in effect, “Yes, that happened and here’s how I’m going to respond.”
“No, but” is particularly dangerous, and insidious, in work situations like the above, where many feel they don’t have the right or seniority to speak up. Toxic workplaces aside, using “yes, and” is a way to make your thoughts known, without raising hackles. You’re not saying, “I don’t like your idea, let’s do mine instead.” Instead, you’re saying, “I love it, what if we tried this?” Even if what you’re adding effectively erases whatever came before it, chances are nobody will notice that because they’ll be zeroed in on your great idea and how constructively you shared it.