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YES, And…

Sometimes a few small changes can go a long way toward solving big problems. As someone who wrote a book called “Don’t Take Yes for an Answer” it might seem confusing that today I come in praise of the word YES.

Let me explain.

In the context of personal improvement, it’s important to avoid surrounding yourself in an echo chamber of YES, because honest feedback about what you need to improve is critical to reaching your potential. But for the purposes of healthy dialogue, YES is possibly the most important word in the entire English language.

I learned this powerful lesson while taking an improv comedy class a few years ago. The first bedrock rule of improv is “YES, and.” In order to be good at improv, you have to keep the scene (conversation) moving by saying “yes, and” to whatever your scene partner says – and never use the words “no” or “but,” which negates what they said and stops the scene in its tracks.

These same improv principles apply in our daily lives. But in the public arena – particularly on social media – I have seen the exact opposite of “Yes, and.” It’s been a chorus of people attacking each other with a flood of reverberating “no’s” and “but’s,” which removes the possibility of a two-way conversation that could lead to progress. Conversely, when you engage with someone using “Yes, and,” you are able to acknowledge another point of view (even if you don’t agree with it), which then opens up the possibility of a constructive dialogue.

We all seem to be locked in a prison of either/or thinking – whatever one’s views are – and we are solidifying that thinking with our negating language. That small change – from “no” to “yes, and” – will allow us to have a dialogue around a new slogan I propose: “let’s do both.” YES, let’s respect and support the protestors AND rightly call out those who are looting. YES, let’s fight for police reform AND support the dedicated law enforcement agencies working hard to keep the peace.

Whatever your issue is, think about how you can make your point AND make room for another perspective and try to incorporate at least some elements into your own thinking. While I caution you not to TAKE yes for an answer…I also urge you to GIVE yes for an answer in your dialogue.

A few weeks ago, former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill passed away. His unlikely rise to fame was chronicled in Charles Duhigg’s excellent book The Power of Habits. O’Neill was a surprise choice to become CEO of ALCOA in 1980, and in his very first address to his company and Wall Street analysts, he threw away the typical script for CEOs. Instead of discussing growth, sales, strategy or markets, O’Neill talked about worker safety, and made it the number one priority in his administration. The street thought he was crazy and the stock quickly tanked.

Soon after, that small change – from a focus on growth, sales, and strategy to worker safety – showed the frontline employees that O’Neill was different, and that he truly cared about them. Morale soared and so did the company – proving the Wall Street skeptics wrong.

One small change had huge reverberations. In homage to Paul O’Neill, let’s make this one small change and trying saying “yes, and” when talking with others. You’ll quickly see the power in it.


Catapult Your Career and Your Life Forward

Steve Herz, one of the nation’s premier talent agents and career advisors shows you how to catapult your career and your life forward with three key communication strategies—Authority, Warmth, and Energy. Available June 16th, from HarperCollins.

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