Improv at the Office: Yes, and…

imgresWhen I get really busy, I communicate less effectively. Truth is, I don’t listen as well, I get short in my responses and I cut off conversation prematurely, because I’m so focused on getting onto the next thing. I’m not proud of it, but it happens.

The First Rule of Improv

When I was in B-School, I participated in a business communication workshop that was entirely based on improvisational comedy. We practiced improv skits for an hour a week.┬áImprov is really, really, really hard. It takes a quick wit, creativity and a willingness to surrender to wherever the skit goes – and they go everywhere and anywhere. No-one is in control. Everyone is in control! Like I said, it is hard. But improv is a lot easier when you embrace and follow it’s number 1 rule:

Never say “No, but”; always say “Yes, and.”

No matter what material your improv skit-mates hand you, you have to go with it. If you say “no, but”, the skit will come to a screeching halt. But if you say, “Yes” acknowledging whatever your scene-mate has just said, plus “and”, you can advance the skit forward, rather than stopping it in its tracks. If your skit-mate says “Isn’t it wonderful how these hot coals exfoliate your skin”, your response should be “Yes, and the heat resistant skin-treatment you created will surely sell like hot cakes once we start marketing it.”

Improv at the Office

I bring up my B-school improv experience because “Yes, and…” is the one tool I’ve found to be effective in helping me get out of the short communication trap I fall into when I get too busy. “Yes, and…” is an incredibly powerful and effective tool and it works in just about any business setting where active listening, group based decision-making and influencing others is involved. I know, that is like every business setting… Even if you disagree with a colleague, it is important to be able to acknowledge their thoughts, feelings or comments by saying “Yes”. When “Yes” is combined with “and…” you can both acknowledge a colleagues comment and advance the discussion in a constructive direction.

Every time you have the instinct to say “No, but…”, replace it with “Yes, and…”. Try it at work today. Try it at home with your spouse and kids too. Let me know how it goes.

Now for Some Improv


Improv at the Office: Yes, and…