The #1 Best Strategy for Better Communication: Yes, AND…


The foundation of modern-day coaching has its roots in the world of acting. Ironic, in a way, that such an authentic form of communication is like a spin-off from the world of make-believe. But to pretend authentically – that is, to act well – requires a depth of understanding, and clear communication. Since that's what coaching is all about, I guess it makes sense.

One of the favorite games of many a stand-up comedy or Improv class is called, “Yes, AND…” It's also a particularly useful coaching tool. And when it comes to relationships, it has … well … magic properties. It's like a special sauce for masterful communication!

On the surface, it's simple. “Yes, AND” has dual purposes. It's a play on language designed to shift attention to the positive, and re-direct a conversation. If an Improv comedy troupe feels like a joke is heading off a cliff, you can see how it might be useful to re-direct it – quickly. Here's where “Saturday Night Live” would benefit from doing a bit more Improv – but I digress.

“Yes, AND” works wonders in personal conversations. When a child is complaining about homework, for example, the word “Yes, AND” might help a parent validate the challenge, and re-direct the focus to a good reason for completion. “Yes, sweetie, I know it's a lot to do tonight. AND when you're done, not only will you feel REALLY proud of yourself – you will also be able to play in Free Time at school tomorrow.”

This communication strategy is a double-positive reinforcement. Yes is a word of affirmation. It can help people feel heard, and validated. It adds to a conversation in a positive way. It's a way of saying, “I agree,” or “you're right.” The word “AND” enables you to masterfully re-direct a conversation. Once you validate your child's complaint with the word “yes,” you reinforce it with the word “and.” Then you can take the conversation in a different direction because your child (or spouse) has felt heard and acknowledged.

“Yes, AND” is a great substitute for the word, “but,” which tends to put people on the defensive and make them feel wrong. The word “but” often disqualifies the first part of anything we've said.

Back to the Improv troupe. A key rule in the world of Improv is to make your “partners” look good. As a team, you're always watching out for each other, setting up your partners for success. If they look good, you look good. If they succeed, you succeed. The last thing the team needs is for any one member to steal the show, or try to look good at the expense of others. The question is never whether someone is right. It's only whether, as a group, they are funny!

“Yes, AND” works the same in a family. It's a great way to help your kids (or spouse) feel like a team, acknowledging each other and setting each other up for success. Try it. Yes, you might actually like it. AND, you never know when a little change in language will improve communication for your entire family!
Here's how it works:
When someone says something that you either disagree with, or is not what you had in mind, respond with the word, “Yes.” Then, identify SOMETHING in that comment that you can agree with, or like about it. Find something to acknowledge. Add the word “AND,” and from there you can add to the conversation whatever you wish, taking it in a new direction or building on what's already been said.

Here's how it might play out (yes, I know it's a ridiculous example!):

Someone says they really like bananas and think you should, too. You say, “Yes, I think it's really great that you like bananas. And, while I'm not a big fan of them, I really like apples.” Now, you're in alignment about liking fruit, and you never had to say, “but I don't like bananas!”

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