‘Yes, and’ works better than ‘No, but’

At first glance, you might not think im­­provisational comedy and organizational teamwork share much in common. But they do.

Both activities require individuals to contribute to a larger goal while supporting each other’s success. Big egos can interfere, so participants tend to focus on helping each other succeed rather than hogging the spotlight. Good improv—and strong work teams—depend on creative collaboration.

To enhance teamwork at apparel maker Life Is Good, the company invited staffers to enroll in a two-hour improvisational comedy workshop conducted by a Boston theater group. The 20 employees came away with valuable insights.

During one exercise, a participant would launch a conversation with a statement such as, “I really adore my cat.” Another would respond with a “but” statement such as, “But cats are so boring.”

The group realized that the improv sputtered when the respondent negated what the first person said.

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For the next exercise, the respondent was told to reply, “Yes, and …” For example, he might say, “Yes, and my cat is so adorable that I filmed her for four hours.” The dialogue took off from there.

Reflecting on the workshop, Life Is Good employees concluded that by building on each other’s ideas, they could achieve more than if they injected negative comments. “You really see how the word no is such a showstopper in conversation,” one of them says.

In team meetings, the group now favors affirming language such as, “Yes, we could do that” and “Yes, and we could also consider …”

— Adapted from “Let’s Just Improvise,” Adam Bluestein, www.inc.com.