Managing Smart: Using the ‘Yes, And…’ Thinking Technique

By Sally Leslie, Coordinator, Employee Development

I remember my best friend saying to me years ago, “When we first met, I knew we would get along very well because you made me feel welcome — like I was part of the group — even though I didn’t know anyone.”

My life has taken me through three university degrees, and I now live a continent away. Somehow, though, I remember that basic premise: to be inclusive is key to beginning and maintaining relationships, both at work and at home. I saw my future best friend’s face and thought, “Yes, and this could be the beginning of a great relationship.” 

Inviting colleagues to collaborate is all about the welcome they receive — not just the first time — but every time they take a place at the table and are brave enough to share their ideas and their unique talents. Establishing that welcoming and inclusive tone takes time because it involves trust. Once you’ve established that trust through transparency and inclusivity, you set the expectation for the team.

In order for employees to bring their true strengths to the group, you require their commitment. One of the ways you can gain this commitment is to include all of your team members in the decision-making process. When you are an inclusive and participative leader in this way, you take the time to acknowledge concerns and face conflicts within the team and encourage “yes, and …” thinking and problem-solving rather than a “no, but …” approach.

“Yes, and …” thinking in a team encourages open dialogue and helps to build trust. So where does this idea come from? Executives from The Second City, a comedy theater and school of improvisation based in Chicago, found that its improvisational techniques can help any organization develop innovators, encourage adaptable leaders and build transformational businesses.

Based on the principles of theatrical improvisation, “Yes, and …” thinking helps to develop trust in a team because people’s ideas are never shut down and always considered as part of the bigger picture. Some of the benefits of this type of thinking can be:

  • Mastering the ability to co-create in a project;
  • Fostering a “yes, and …” approach to work;
  • Embracing failure to accelerate high performance;
  • Leading by listening and by learning to follow; and
  • Innovating by making something out of nothing.

So the next time you and your team are together and you’re tempted to hear an idea and counter with, “no, but …” try using “yes, and …” thinking and see where it will take you.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at sleslie3@valenciacollege.edu or 407-299-5000, extension 5142.

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