The Antidote to “No, But”
April 1, 2019
TopicsCommunication, forward thinking, improv, Listening, perspective, team dynamics
Within six months of being hired, Sam wished he had a dollar for every time a team member communicated, “No, but.”
Sam had passed his interviews with flying colors. They even gave him time to share his initial ideas, ask probing questions, and take time to think over his decision to accept the role. Sadly, nothing could have prepared Sam for what happened next—he stepped onto a toxic team.
Everyone seemed nice enough, but something unseen kept undercutting conversations and momentum. Sam regularly floated inspiring ideas, strategic goals, and creative plans by his boss and colleagues. While he expected to have a short leadership leash when he first started, it blew his mind that he never once heard, “That’s great! Have you considered…?” or “Good thinking. What if we…?” Instead, everything Sam tried got shut down by some version of, “No, but.”
At first, Sam questioned his professional expertise, perspective, and relatability. Then he noticed the “No, but” issue wasn’t personal, it was pervasive. Teams didn’t know, or had forgotten, how to build on one another’s strengths, contributions, and decisions. Instead of quitting, Sam introduced an acting game he learned at a party once and it actually turned out to be the perfect antidote to “No, but.”
The antidote to “No, but” is “Yes, and.”
Beyond being the title of a well-known Improv game, “Yes, and” can keep a conversation from collapsing, a storyline from stalling out, and a team from tanking. Improv actors know they need to work with not against each other, especially when they’re in front of a live audience. Always replying with “No, but,” results in team members consistently dismissing or redirecting one another’s thoughts and punchlines. Ironically, funny never gets a chance to flow when comedians constantly contradict their partners. But, when “Yes, and” gets added to an improv actor’s comedic toolbelt, they’re able to build up others and build on whatever they contribute. As it turns out, the same is true for organizations and teams that choose to say, “Yes, and.”
Reflect on your leadership, team, and organization. Do you think you communicate “No, but” or “Yes, and” more often? As you know, it’s important to compare your opinion with what’s really going on around you.
Use the ideas below to gain clarity and start using “Yes, and” as the antidote to “No, but” right away.
- Review a handful of recent emails or meeting agendas/notes. How well do these communicate that you highly value each person’s presence and contribution?
- Talk about the difference between “No, but” and “Yes, and” with new hires and longer-term staffers. Then, ask if responses to their ideas, goals, and plans are typically affirmed/built upon or dismissed/redirected?
- Grab a meal with your leadership team and then play “Yes, And.” Follow up by brainstorming ways to help every team member in your organization discover the value of “Yes, and” for themselves and put it into practice.
- Don’t leave “Yes, and” at the office. Let it change the way you relate to your spouse, kids, friends, and neighbors, and the storyline you’re writing together in life. Invite those who know you well to call you out whenever you inadvertently cut the conversation or their contribution short.
This is a great perspective, thank you for sharing it! I’ve worked hard to not use “Yes, but” which I think is also dejecting.
I appreciate this nice piece, Dan. Unfortunately, it’s missing an important step. I’ve actually participated in this exercise in a session led by the improv group in Chicago who created it, and it’s actually a 3-step process. First, groups of 4 people were asked to work together to come with a plan for a celebration. In the first round, one person presented an idea, and the other 3 said, “No, because.” In the second round, a different person presented an idea, and the other 3 said, “Yes, but.” In the third round, another person presented their idea, and everyone responded with, “Yes, and.” The point that the improv group made was that both “No, because” and “Yes, but” shut down each group’s creativity. Only “Yes, and” produced a wealth of creative input from everyone on how to have a sensational celebration.