W@TW: Yes, And...


The other week I attended a lecture that featured an improvisation group.  I had never been to an improv show and it was fascinating to see them work.  While the two actors did some "sets", the lecture was more of a tutorial about the philosophy of improv and how many of its facets can be applied to every day life. 

Watching the actors work was amazing.  Someone would suggest a phrase or idea and the actors would take that suggestion or phrase and run with it, bouncing ideas and dialogue off of each other.  In addition to demonstrating some of the techniques, the actors wanted us, the audience, to participate in the improv process. 

We were grouped into twos or threes. Our first task was to have a dialogue where one person would start the conversation with a negative.  We were given a scenario, e.g. planning a child's birthday party.  To whatever someone said, the next person would continue the conversation by starting her statement with, "No...."   Next we were to start the scenario with the same premise (planning a child's birthday party) but this time our subsequent statements would begin with an affirmation followed by a conjunction. For instance the dialogue would start with the same premise but the additional dialogue needed to start with the expression, "Yes, but....".  Our final task was to use the same premise but with subsequent statements beginning  with "Yes, and...."  

Of course, you can just imagine.  By saying "Yes, and..." one opens up the discussion to all sorts of wild possibilities. What the improv troop noted was that sometimes in negotiating or working with others, by saying "Yes, and..." the end result might be the same as a discussion with "Yes, but..." The difference is that the "yes, and..." opens up the discussion to possibilities, while the "Yes, but..." or the "no"closes and shuts down creative expression. 

Having recently experienced a group dynamic of the "No" and "Yes, but..." to various decisions,  I can see how draining and exhausting that type of response creates. There becomes a negative and oppressive atmosphere that stifles any desire for creativity.  It just seems as if our natural tendency is to say "No" or "Yes, but" (which really is another way to say no).   

I wonder if there needs to be mutual consent or at least some kind of understanding to use the "Yes, and" language.   In my recent group, knowing the individuals with whom I was conversing, if I said, "Yes, and..." there probably would not be a recognition of trying to creatively build something.  A "Yes, and..." would be viewed as an admission that whatever that person suggested is correct and there is no further exploration.  I guess in a group setting I will have to be careful in my use of "Yes, and..."

But for the times when I am just deciding or contemplating things on my own, I think I would like to explore the "Yes, and..." mindset.  What would it look like if I said, "Yes, and..." to a writing project, to a request or to a personal suggestion?

What about you?  Do you naturally respond with a "No" or a "Yes, but..." when asked for a decision?  What would your personal life look like if you said, "Yes, and..."  What about your professional life?  How about how you live your life?  

Click here to read how "Yes, and..." works in drama.