BY JEN OLENICZAK BROWN
What’s the first thing you think of when you think of the word “improv”?
Chances are, your brain went to something funny, maybe a comic or the show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” Maybe you’ve experienced a teambuilding with work, or taken a professional development class and know it has skills outside of laughing (or cringing!). Improv, at its core, is listening and responding to the world around you, which makes it both a professional and personal development skill builder.
Even if you don’t subscribe to the helpfulness of taking an improv class, there is a phrase that is a cornerstone of improv that can help everyone in almost any aspect of your life: “Yes, And…” Here are three ways to start using this impressive communication hack:
Get caught in a meeting at work, and you have literally no ideas? Use Yes, And… to brainstorm and expand your creativity. Take a moment to look at a new idea: maybe it’s the best lip balm in the world. Start Yes, And’ing the idea, eliminating the possibility of failure as well as any creative blocks:
• I have an idea for a new lip balm.
• Yes, And that lip balm will never melt.
• Yes, And that lip balm is all-natural.
• Yes, And that lip balm won’t dry out your lips.
And so on. Some of what you come up with might not be possible, and some of it might be perfect.
Active listening isn’t easy: you have to listen, show you’re listening, and actually retain the information. It’s exhausting – and difficult, because we’re generally thinking about a half-dozen things at once throughout the day.
Yes, And… is a solid way to show you’re listening – and help you actually listen. Imagine the person you’re talking to had a bad day and is telling you details. You can use Yes, And… to show that you’re paying attention by affirming what the person just said:
• Friend: And then I dumped my coffee on myself!
• You: Yes, you dumped your coffee on yourself, And that’s terrible.
Now, this sounds pretty contrived and fake. Think about applying the principle here versus using the exact words. “Yes” is an affirmation – you’re telling them you hear them, while “And” adds information in a supportive way. If you said, “That’s terrible you dumped your coffee, are you ok?” You’ve affirmed that you heard them, and didn’t change the meaning or how they felt.
Conflict is possibly one of the biggest “game changers” for Yes, And… Most of the time, when someone is upset, they just want to be heard. They don’t often need to be told advice, and if we end up downplaying it or changing the subject, they end up more upset. If someone is telling you that you’ve disappointed them, you can use Yes, And… to find out more:
• Yes, I hear that I’ve disappointed you, And I want to know how I can help. Can you tell me?
You’re affirming their feeling and then adding yours with the “and.” In conflict, we tend to use the word “but” which simply adds an argumentative component to the conversation:
• Yes, I’ve disappointed you, but I want to know how I can help.
In that last sentence, you’ve elevated your thought over theirs – your “help” is more important than their disappointment. In conflict, the last thing you really want to do is create that status and power struggle: the word “but” often acts as a fulcrum – one thing is more important than another, and it’s usually the thing after the “but”:
• I like cheese, but fruit is better.
While things aren’t as simple as fruit and cheese, when you use the word “And” you’ve equalized the two statements. That’s why it’s so successful in conflict: you’re leveling the emotions.
Yes, And… has dozens of applications – these are just three to get you “and’ing away!