There’s an old saying that goes: “Faith is believing in something that you know isn’t true.” I think a similar paradox underlies a common objection to the improv concept of “Yes And.”

“Yes And” says that an improv performer must not deny the reality asserted by her onstage partner but must accept it and build on it during the course of the scene. In introducing this concept to the organizational world, I’ve received the following pushback more than once: “You mean I’m supposed to agree with someone even if I don’t agree with him?”

When put like that, the “Yes And” concept certainly sounds indefensible, so my usual response is to reframe the question by pointing out that “Yes And” doesn’t necessarily mean Agreeing with the Position, but it does mean:

(1) Accepting the Person,
(2) Acknowledging the Possibilities in what the person says, and
(3) Advancing with a Positive Purpose.

The “Yes And” attitude can be contrasted with the approach many people take instead: Disagreeing with the Position – period! People who take this approach usually get stuck in a no-win battle of hammering each other with their Positions, rather than inquiring into the interests, values, and perspectives that underlie the other’s Position – and their own as well. As pointed out in the book Getting to Yes, the seminal work of the Harvard Negotiation Project, this volleying back and forth of Positions is the very definition of impasse and stalemate. (In fact, it’s a perfect example of the Definition of Insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time.”)

Not long ago, I ran across a more recent book that also emerged from the Harvard Negotiation Project - Difficult Conversations - that made the “Yes And” connection even more explicit. Difficult Conversations describes a common dynamic in disputes: The attitude of “I’m right and you’re wrong”! that lies at the heart of practically every Position-based dispute. The antidote for this attitude is the adoption of what the book calls the “And Stance.”

The “And Stance” says that, rather than assuming that you have only one choice in a dispute – either accept or reject the other’s “story” – you can embrace both your own story and the other’s story. They may have done something insensitive, and you may have contributed in important ways to the problem as well. You can feel furious with them, and you can also feel respect and appreciation for them. Their idea may be crazy and impractical, and it just might work!

Ultimately, the “And Stance” permits you to say: “I’m right and you’re right!” - that is, we both have a piece of the truth in our respective possessions. With that understanding, we can then move on to a much more useful question than “Who’s right?”, namely: “Now that we really understand where we’re coming from, what’s a good way to move forward?”

As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his book The Crack-Up: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Certainly improv performers use their mental prowess to do this all the time via “Yes And” – and in fact anyone embroiled in a difficult conversation can use the “And Stance” as a way to Acknowledge the Person, Accept the Possibilities, and Advance with Positive Purpose.

REFERENCES:
Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, by Douglas Stone et al.
Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton

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Replies to This Discussion

Jerry, I appreciate your post very much. 

 

I'm preparing to do an Essentials of Humanitarian Negotiation training course for a UN agency. We have various role plays, scenarios and case studies we'll be using and I have incorporated improv methods (such as the "Yes, and" versus "Yes, but" demonstration) but I'm looking for other exercises or games to incorporate wherever possible.  We'll be soliciting their negotiation challenges at the beginning of the workshop so we'll have some premises to use.

 

I've read the thread below and notice there is a website with some material below, are there any more current and appropriate methods/exercises that you or others in AIN might recommend?

 

Many thanks for any help you may be able to provide.

 

Greg

Hi, Greg - thanks very much for your comment and inquiry! Since I originally posted this in 2008, I've continued to think and write about the concept of Yes And and its connection to teamwork, collaboration, and negotiation (my latest blog posts have elaborated on that theme). I haven't focused much lately on the use of methods and exercises, though, so your question has sparked my thinking on the topic. I'll consider the possibilities here in the next few days and provide some suggestions - hopefully others in the AIN network can also contribute some thoughts.

 

Jerry

OK, great Jerry.  I appreciate your rapid response.  I'll also continue to do some digging around.

 

Look forward to hearing further from you and others.

 

Greg

Greg, I went ahead and incorporated a couple of games and suggested activities in the latest post on my blog The Daily Improviser. Hope these might be useful, or at least spark some other ideas. - Jerry

 

http://the-daily-improviser.blogspot.com/

FYI, I already had scheduled "Yes, but.../Yes, and..." as an exercise in the training.  That's a good one we'll open with after introductions.

 

As the Opening/Introductions we're going to use Gamestorming's "Low-Tech Social Network" exercise which will help participants look for connections and common ground amongst themselves.   There are usually more than they think there are.

 

Greg

Great, thanks Jerry.  I'll check them out!

 

Best regards,

Greg

You're welcome, Greg! And I'll be interested in checking out the "Low-Tech Social Network" exercise you mentioned - sounds very intriguing.

Jerry,

Check out the website for "Gamestorming" here with the page on the Low-Tech Social Network. 

 

http://www.gogamestorm.com/?cat=58

 

It has  a lot of various games and methods for training and workshops.  Quite good.  You might want to pick up the book "Gamestorming" also.  It explains the concepts behind the games approach.  I found it quite useful and informative.

 

Thanks for your help again.

 

G

 

Jerry - your distinction between "yes, and" and agreeing with the position is right on. People in negotiation workshops (particularly lawyers) sometimes take "yes, and" literally and forget that its a communication technique to get more info from someone and keep the conversation from locking up.
Thanks, Jeff. I know from my own law school days that "yes and" and the "and stance" would have been very foreign concepts - it was all about the adversarial process. I now work a lot with project managers, and many of them seem to follow the adversarial process in that environment as well - "If I can't resolve it, then I'll just escalate." I'm glad to see more project managers recognizing the benefits of the alternative approach - collaborate, look for common ground, advance together toward a goal.
Thanks Jerry. Getting to Yes is one of my all-time favourite books. Practical, succinct, and made a big difference to how I spoke to people! You've drawn out a great parallel with 'Yes, and.'

Now I'm wondering when we start offering out 'Negotiate by Improvising' workshops and programs?
hat could be next, Paul.

 

I purchased and am reading your book "The Solutions Focus" and I'm really enjoying its approach.

 

See my message to Jerry above.  As I read it I see that this approach could also be applied toward negotiations.  I'm doing an essentials of humanitarian negotiation training for UNHCR in Thailand and I'm looking to incorporate this thinking into the course in some way.

 

If you do another edition of the book you may want to consider adding some elements on negotiation and mediation.  It  seems very appropriate and could be useful in many different contexts.

 

Greg

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