Words have power. They have the ability to help or hinder, heal or harm, or to be a source of encouragement or despair. As a leader, it is important that we are aware of how we communicate with others, how others receive our message, and whether they understand the message as it was intended. Words are important because they can determine whether your followers remain engaged or or become discouraged.

Imagine sitting around the conference room table discussing solutions for a critical business problem. The team starts brainstorming various solutions and one by one every idea gets shot down with a “but.”

  • “That’s a good idea but our partners will never agree to that plan.”
  • “I hear what you’re saying but we’ve tried that before and it never worked.”
  • “That sounds like a plan but we’ll never make the deadline.”

But! But! Buts are flying everywhere and a solution can not be reached … or reached in a timely manner. This type of environment is anything BUT collaborative!

What can leaders learn from improvisational comedy?

According to The Second City comedy theater, there’s an important axiom in improvisation: Always take care of your partner. Even the most talented comedians need support when they’re on stage. The same is true of leaders and teams. There are important lessons we can learn from their improv techniques.

The “Yes, And” Improve Rule is a rule-of-thumb in improvisational comedy that suggests that a participant should accept what another person has stated (“Yes”) and then expand on that line of thinking (“And”).  For example …

  • “That’s a good idea (Yes) and if we could get input from our partners to ensure they will agree to the plan, we may be able to finish the project by the end of the year!”
  • “I hear what you’re saying (Yes) and if we can get the partners’ buy-in before we roll out the project, it just might work!”
  • “That sounds like a great plan (Yes) and if we get get the partner’s input and buy-in before we roll out the project we just might make the deadline!”

See the difference?  One simple word can make all the difference between the conversation sounding critical or collaborative. Click To Tweet

Yes, And Improv Game you can play with your team!

Remember Drew Carey’s Whose Line Is It Anyway? This extremely funny, highly-successful show was based on improvisational comedy. The concept is simple and the activity can be played upfront in pairs or with the whole group in a circle.

You start the dialog with a simple statement. Each participant will respond with a “yes, and” statement to build collaboration and further the scene.  For example.

  • It is raining outside today [opening statement]
  • Yes, and it’s raining cats and dogs at my house!
  • Yes, and when I walked outside I stepped in a “poodle” 
  • Yes, and that poodle bit me on the leg
  • Yes, and I had to go to the ER for stitches
  • Yes, and George Clooney was my doctor
  • Yes, and I watched Curious George while waiting
  • Yes, and they brought me a burger with Heinz catsup
  • Yes, and while I was gone the cat left a present for me on the porch

The “but” habit is a hard one to break.
Yes, and well worth the investment to build new collaboration skills and reset expectations with your team!

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