The Power of Yes And

Unfortunately, we live in a contentious society. People love to argue. It’s clear that to many of us, a great way to gain status in a given group is by shooting down a “dumb” idea. Or if not shooting down the idea altogether, poking holes in it–saying “yeah, but…” We’ve all done it.

In this piece about improv technique, I want to let you in on the secret of great improv. Ready?

Say “Yes, and…” instead of “Yeah, but…”

That’s it. Simple, yes. And transformative. And not easy.

Here’s the thing: When we say yes and, we open a door. We accept an offer (remember that word; it’s improv jargon, and an important word) made by our partner; in effect, we accept our partner.

Imagine that you go to the trouble of picking out a gift for someone’s birthday party. You think it is exactly their taste, you think they’re going to love it. You eagerly await the chance to give it to them. The day arrives, they open the wrapping paper, look at the gift, look at you with disdain, and say “Whatever were you thinking? I HATE this thing!” Can you imagine your feelings? At that point the rest of the visit would become a thing to be endured, rather than delighted in, no?

Maybe you would try to save face by claiming that the gift was a gag (Keep an eye on that word, too!) or maybe you would leave in a huff, or maybe you would sink into the floor in shame…whatever, you probably wouldn’t be having a great time.

Well, an improv scene is kinda like that birthday party. You can help to make the party delightful by accepting your partner’s offers, and building with them, or you can be a party pooper, and yes-but everything.

We run an exercise with new groups called yes-but, yes-and. If you are training a group, try this:

The small group (four to six is good) is tasked with planning a party (for their boss, a retiree, whatever.) they are told that money is no object. The one thing: Every response to an idea must begin with the words “Yes, but…”

Let them take turns, spinning ideas, all beginning with “yes, but…” Let them try to plan that party for a while, then ask them how they are doing. Probably, they’ll tell you they are doing great. Then ask them how the party planning is going. They’ll tell you they haven’t gotten very far at all.

Now, have them try again–you guessed it, this time the words to start each response with are “yes, and…”

See how this party turns out! Our experience is that we’d always rather attend the second party, never the first one.

Something to watch out for: The dreaded “Yes but in disguise!” It might present as something like this:

A: We could go for boat rides!
B: Yes, and the way these boats leak, we can all drown!

If you see that, in a group setting, the person who comes up with it might get a laugh. But watch the quality of creativity degrade once that little disguised but is unleashed.

OK. I hear you. You’re saying, OK, Michael. Great. I get it. But in real life, even in real scenes, I don’t always agree with what others have to say. Are you suggesting that I pretend to agree with a dumb idea, when I really don’t?

Nope. And that will be the topic of the next post: Everything is an Offer.

If you are interested in taking improv classes with the Mop & Bucket Co, a new session is starting soon! For details, go to