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  • Writer's pictureLinda Pizzitola, Kauai, Hawaii

The Art of "Yes and..."

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

the art of "yes, and..."

"Yes and..." is one of my favorite take aways from To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel Pink. He says we are all salespeople, whether we're moving goods, services, ideas, or otherwise trying to persuade anyone to do anything. Times have changed in the world of influencing others, he says. Now consumers can educate themselves and access feedback from other consumers with the click of button. So "the stable, simple, and certain conditions that favored scripts have now given way to the dynamic, complex, and unpredictable conditions that favor improvisation.

Beneath the apparent chaos of improvisation is a light structure that allows it to work. Understanding that structure can help you move [i.e. influence] others, especially when your astute perspective-taking, infectious positivity, and brilliant framing don’t deliver the results you seek. In those circumstances and many others, you’ll do better if you follow three essential rules of improvisational theater: (1) Hear offers. (2) Say 'Yes and...' (3) Make your partner look good."

HEAR OFFERS. The first principle of improvisation hinges on attunement, leaving our own perspective to inhabit the perspective of another. Cathy Salit, Founder and CEO of Performance of a Lifetime, emphasizes slowing down and shutting up as the route to listening well. Listening without some degree of intimacy isn’t really listening. It’s passive and transactional rather than active and engaged. 'Listen without listening for anything.' Objections are often offers in disguise.

SAY 'YES AND...' is the second foundational skill for improv artists. It depends on buoyancy, in particular the quality of positivity. “Yes and...” carries a particular force, which becomes clearer when we contrast it with its evil twin, “Yes but...” as the following exercise illustrates:


One person begins with a proposition—for example, “Let’s have our high school reunion in Las Vegas.” Every subsequent comment from both participants must begin with “Yes, but.” It usually unfolds something like this:

“Let’s have our high school reunion in Las Vegas.”

“Yes, but that’s going to be too expensive for some people.”

“Yes, but that way only the people who really want to be there will attend.”

“Yes, but some of our classmates don’t gamble.”

“Yes, but there’s more to do there than play blackjack.”

“Yes, but even without gambling, it’s still not a great place for people to bring their families.”

“Yes, but reunions are better without all those kids.”

“Yes, but if people can’t find child care at home, they won’t attend . . .”

The planning process spins and spins, but nothing—and nobody—moves.


Then participants take an alternative route, where the undermining conjunction “but” is replaced with its more inclusive sibling, “and.” This version might go like this:

“Let’s have our high school reunion in Las Vegas.”

“Yes—and if it’s too expensive for some people we can raise money or organize road trips.”

“Yes—and if we start early, we could reserve a block of rooms at a hotel that offers volume discounts.”

“Yes—and for families with kids and for people who don’t gamble, we could organize activities during the day.”

“Yes—and if we have enough people, we might be able to pool our resources to pay for babysitters so one night some parents can go out on their own.”

“Yes—and those who wanted to could all go to a show together.”

Instead of swirling downward into frustration, “Yes and” spirals upward toward possibility. When you stop you’ve got a set of options, not a sense of futility.

“Yes and’ isn’t a technique,” Salit says. “It’s a way of life.”

MAKE YOUR PARTNER LOOK GOOD is the third rule of improvisational theater and relates to "Think Win-Win," habit number four on Stephen Covey’s list of Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People. "Adopt a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions."

"In improv, you never try to get someone to do something. That’s coercion, not creativity,” Salit says. “You make offers, you accept offers—and a conversation, a relationship, a scene, and other possibilities emerge."

While there are certainly appropriate times in life to say 'No,' "if you train your ears to hear offers, if you respond to others with 'Yes and...' and if you always try to make your counterpart look good, possibilities will emerge."

“Those who say ‘Yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have. Those who say ‘No’ are rewarded by the safety they attain.” -Keith Johnstone, author of Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre

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