Second City Improv taught me to “Yes and…”

Those of you who have read my earlier post “Five Things You May Not Have Known About Me” already know that I’m enrolled in a Second City Improvisational class. I initially signed up simply for the joy of fun. I work hard and if I don’t pay attention, I can easily lose myself in the gamut of work and other areas of responsibility (sound familiar?). I have a gazillion interests so it’s not hard to think of what activities to pursue – but like many of you, if I don’t intentionally carve out the time and make the commitment to play and have fun it may not happen often enough for my version of my TGIM work-life.

Lesson #1:  Make the time and the commitment for stuff that’s important to you (for your fulfillment) outside of your work – otherwise it may not happen.

But a funny thing happened on the way towards fun….I learned a few things that are hugely valuable for my work and life outside of Improv.

 The first thing we learn in Improv is the importance of “Yes and…” in moving scenes forward and making them work.

In Improv, there’s no defined script. We play with other players and work together to co-create something. It flows when we truly do collaborate, respect other people’s contributions; listen and observe; stay present — and stop trying to ‘own’ or control the outcome.

 “Yes and….” is anchored in accepting ‘offers’.  What’s an offer? In Improv it might be a provocative line; infusing a new idea; a character or plot suggestion; an intense emotion; really anything that we can work with to move the scene along in a meaningful way.

The anti-thesis of  “Yes and…” is “No but..”.

Where “Yes and’s…” inspire, energize, invite collaboration, instill trust…..”No but’s” take the air out of the scene or the possibility.

 If you’ve read this far, you might already be relating this to your own work and life. Afterall, isn’t life and work filled with Improv opportunities? Think about your interactions and relationships in all contexts of work and life: partners, team members, peers, employees, bosses, clients, family, friends…neighbors, board members, etc.

“Offers” in life and work come in so many shapes and sizes: Proposals, suggestions, ideas and even casual remarks…..they aren’t always ‘obvious’ — you have to pay attention and notice when an ‘offer’ is being made.

What would be possible if we paid more attention to how we respond to the offers we get daily from our relationships? What would open up if we framed our interaction in a “Yes and…” vs. an automatic “No but.”?

Distinction: I hope you trust that the ‘Yes and…” is not about making you a “yes person” — i.e. passively accepting full-out every suggestion, idea, remark, proposal that comes your way. Absatively not! Rather, “Yes and…” is about accepting the premise that someone has made an offer. You can use that as a starting point….then either:

  • Build on it — adding your ideas, perspective, etc.
  • Add a twist or new angle…
  • Deepen it…and engage…..with a question, hypothesis, emotion, etc.
  • Or if  you must ‘reject it’ – start by first acknowledging the ‘offer’ and the inherent good parts (come on….there’s something you can find!)

“Yes and’s…” have tremendous ability to help inspire engaging conversations, collaboration, trust and respect – and more…all leading to TGIM Work-life. They put way more ‘wind in our sails’ in a purposeful direction than those automatic “No but’s..”

DEVELOP YOUR ‘YES AND…” HABIT: I gotta tell you, it sounds easier than it is — especially in Improv class. We are so quick to respond….and often don’t even notice when we “No but”…or shut down the offers we receive. In fact, more often than not, we don’t even notice when an ‘offer’ has been made!

Developing an authentic and meaningful “Yes and” habit that serves well takes presence and practice. The best place to start a new habit and break an old one is to begin with NOTICING and PAYING ATTENTION.  Here are a few ideas to get you going:

  • In the next week, simply notice how often you hear an “offer” from anyone. Start  paying attention and see if you notice more “offers” being made?  
  • Then notice what you do with it. What tends to be your first instinct? What do you do when the offer initially feels counter-intuitive to your idea or perspective.
  • Pay attention to the offers you make (informally and otherwise). How often are you getting “Yes and’s…” and how many “No but’s…”? In what form do they come in…..i.e. pay attention to the different ways we do ‘yes and’ and do ‘no buts’.
  • How do you feel with each? Notice your energy difference? The attitude it inspires, etc.

 Now I’m going to sign off before I’m late for my Improv class. And as always – I’d love to hear from you!


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6 Responses to “Second City Improv taught me to “Yes and…””

  1. Five Things You May Not Have Known About Me. Now Your Turn… « TGIM Work-Life! Says:

    […] I’ve always loved theatre, drama (TV, movies, etc.). When I was in grade 3 I was the narrator of the play “Three Little Pigs”. When my classmate goofed up his lines, I caught a giggling fit that I just could not stop. Every time I went back on stage (we had other plays that year), it happened again. Yikes! Talk about stage fright. I got over that and these days I’m flexing my ‘dramatic’ muscle in a Second City Improv course which is great fun but harder than I thought. It also provides great fodder for team building skills (see related post: Second City Taught Me to Yes And..). […]

  2. Social Media TIP OF THE WEEK: Disagree « mollybuckley. Says:

    […] In improv, we are told that disagreement on stage is nothing but wasted time. Our philosophy, “Yes, and…” tells us as improvisers that we support and we agree with our scene partner 100% AND to add new and […]

  3. molly buckley. – Social Media TIP OF THE WEEK: Disagree Says:

    […] In improv, we are told that disagreement on stage is nothing but wasted time. Our philosophy, “Yes, and…” tells us as improvisers that we support and we agree with our scene partner 100% AND to add new and […]

  4. Janine Harris Says:

    I was just trying to articulate the culture of the company I recently joined and searched the “Yes, and…” improv concept that came to mind. Your blog came up (…nice work on SEO, btw) Thank you for your description. You nailed it. To paraphrase, it inspires, it energizes, and allows for collaboration and co-creation. Focusing on “Yes, and” can lead to more possibilities and better solutions in not just personal and business settings, but imagine a world where all leaders used this approach. Thanks for the post. – Janine

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