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Yes, and! Lessons from Improv for Listening and Collaborating

Collaboration and inclusion have become central themes in the year 2024, and as we are blessed with the return of the bop queen Ariana Grande, let’s look at the wonder that is yes, and!

“Yes, and” is more than just a catchy phrase; it encapsulates the three crucial steps for effective teamwork:

  1. I have listened.
  2. I agree.
  3. I have thought of something to add another layer to your idea.

This philosophy has been beautifully crafted by the world of improvisation, where it serves as the cornerstone for creating seamless and engaging performances. Imagine being part of a group on stage, and someone initiates a scene by saying, “Here we are on a rocketship.” Now, consider what happens if another performer contradicts this by saying, “Well actually, we are in an office.” In that moment, the show loses its momentum and believability, and the trust and respect between the two performers erodes. However, if the response to “we are on a rocketship” is more like “OMG, I can see something out of the window!” the scene continues to thrive.

Now, let’s explore the parallels and differences in a business setting. While momentum, respect, and trust remain critical components of collaboration, we encounter additional complexities. When someone suggests promoting a business from a rocketship in space, it’s fraught with more challenges than presenting such an idea in a stage show. In the business world, it’s not that “shit ideas” don’t exist, but rather that we gather in meetings because we all possess varying degrees of context about the who, where, when, and what of our objectives – so one person isn’t going to get it right straight away. Dismissing an idea outright might cause other potentially valuable ideas from that session to wither before they can flourish.

The consequences of not agreeing can be substantial. It could indicate that you haven’t fully listened or grasped the concept. If you hastily dismiss the idea, your meeting may lose momentum, and the individual sharing the idea might feel undervalued or misunderstood. Additionally, there’s a chance that you’ve missed the point entirely, and a potentially game-changing idea may slip through the cracks.

Reframing your response

Here are some ideas on how to catch yourself shutting down ideas and replace your vocabulary with positive inclusion and collaboration:

You can’tRepeat the idea back to encourage more info
We don’t have the resourcesHow can we make that work with what we have? Is there an opportunity in our collective network?
That’s not our priorityCan we link that idea to our key goals?
That’s not going to workA similar project failed in the past, what lessons did we learn from it?
That’s the wrong approachI love the first part of your idea and maybe we could add a twist to the delivery to align with xyz
It’ll never be approvedRemember this consideration
I see what you’re saying but….That’s true, let’s workshop it more.

Perhaps the idea does have its challenges or has veered off track, but by engaging in a constructive dialogue instead of shutting it down, you can uncover the hidden potential or redirect it toward a more viable path.  Training yourself to be more positive in responses can be a challenge and if you are feeling particularly negative, maybe grab a lollipop and let a conversation brew around you until you feel better about it.

In a world where collaboration and innovation are the driving forces of progress, embracing the “yes, and” mindset can open doors to new ideas, foster respect, and ultimately lead to more impactful outcomes. So, bring it on Ariana, let’s keep “yes, and” alive in our professional endeavours, and watch how it can transform the way we work together.

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