Become a 'yes, and...' Person
Who knew there was so much to learn from improv comedy?
Improvisational comedy techniques are used in business, governments and individual interactions every day. The ‘yes, and…’ rule is used for creating new ideas, building upon what has already been said and, of course, entertainment purposes. Who would have guessed that improv comedy could be used so widely?
The rule behind ‘yes, and…’ is when your improv partner gives a suggestion, you agree with it and add something onto it.
“The aliens are invading”
“Yes, and… they have anal probes - Run!”.
By adding to what has been suggested you help build tempo and create a flow with whom you are working with. Your partner will then engage in your “yes, and…” by playing along with it, or by adding their own “Yes, and…” to the situation. It puts your creativity skills to the test and creates humorous situations. Compare this to denying that the aliens exist - everything screams to a halt and doesn’t make for an entertaining time.
Watch the cast from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia use the ‘yes, and…’ technique in their podcast for great comedic effect. Clip starts at 39:55, watch till 41:10.
They each add something extra and silly onto Rob’s initial suggestion. A perfect example of using ‘yes, and…’ and one of the reasons why their show is so successful.
Now, take this rule from the stage and put it into your interpersonal life. You’ve probably done this plenty of times before without realising it. It’s the perfect tool for when you’re talking nonsense with friends and riffing off one another. You are showing others that you have creativity and a willingness to engage with their ideas. With this willingness to engage, they will in turn be more likely to share things and spend time with you. Some of my favourite moments with people have been when we’ve used ‘yes, and…’ in casual conversation, albeit without realising it, and coming up with some absurd situations. I’ve been in absolute stitches with how silly we’ve gotten.
There’s someone whom I recently became great friends with. It didn’t take long after initially talking that we kicked it off. I couldn’t explain my natural affinity towards her until I created the ‘yes, and…’ archetype. I realised she was one. We constantly ‘yes, and…’ each other and it built an immediate and solid friendship. I extended this archetype to my current friend group and realised that most of them follow the ‘yes, and…’ rule. These people are the most enjoyable to be around and are easy to get along with. On the flip side, those who do not engage in ‘yes, and…’ are boring and stale. But the times that they do, they shine.
You can let your imagination run wild. Maybe the thing that you are ‘yes, and…’ing is completely unbelievable. That’s not the point. The point is to show that you are listening, are capable of imagining what they imagine and then have the ability to add something just as absurd on top of it. It’s an easy exercise to engage in and the pay off is worth it. Even if your ‘yes, and…’ idea falls flat, you tried and demonstrated that you are listening. And people love to feel that they have been listened to.
New ideas are created when someone constructs a notion and someone else adds a ‘yes, and…’ to it.
“What if rocks were conscious?”
“Yes, and… when we split them in half, their consciousness splits as well.”
This is most likely not true in anyway, but the ‘yes, and…’ opened up a new idea about the nature consciousness. From here the conversation can move to the possibility of consciousness becoming fragmented when the brain itself becomes split or damaged.
Great ideas are never generated when they are immediately shut down.
This can also help with talking to new people, or those of whom you aren’t entirely comfortable with. These silly thought experiments help people relax and let their guard down. Conversation will start to flow and new topics can spring up easily.
Unfortunately this can take on a negative pursuit as well. If someone starts complaining, it’s easy to match that energy in return with another complaint. Almost trying to one up each other on how bad things are. This negative feedback loop can spiral out of control and suddenly you’ve invested an inordinate amount of time into something that isn’t helpful. This is where the opposite of ‘yes, and…’ comes in. The ‘yes, but…’
‘Yes, but…’ is used when you want to do a 180 on the conversation.
“I don’t have enough time to cook dinner today.”
“Yes, but… you get to have takeaways tonight!”
From here, the conversation can go in two directions. The pessimist will look to complain more by rebutting with another ‘yes, but…’ statement, turning the initial positive spin back into a complaint.
“Yes, but… this will affect my diet”.
Whereas an optimist will use a ‘yes, and…’ statement to realise that it’s not all bad.
“Yes, and… I’ve been looking forward to a cheat day.”
‘Yes, but…’ helps find the positives within the negative. There is always a silver lining. You just have to work for it sometimes.
If I have to make a negative comment, I always try to pair it with a positive one. Life is far too short to spend time complaining, whining or moaning about things outside of your control. If you find yourself with people who use the ‘Yes, but…’ technique for an opportunity to complain more, even after you try to be optimistic, it may be worth spending less time with them in the future.
I have cut negative people from my life before and aside from complaining quietly to myself about how negative they were (yes the irony is not lost on me) my life has become much more positive.
Finally, remember that ‘yes, and…’ and ‘yes, but…’ are conversational techniques, not rules that one must follow all the time. Don’t feel compelled to use it at every opportunity. Sometimes what someone needs is just to be listened to.
I suppose the point of this is to show that it’s good to match other people’s energy with a ‘yes, and…’ most of the time, or to help change their outlook with a ‘yes, but…’ in other situations. Use them as you see fit.