THE BLOG
08/12/2014 03:04 pm ET Updated Oct 11, 2014

"Yes, But" - The Evil Twin to "Yes, And"

"Yes, and" is a powerful tool for collaboration, negotiation and effective communication. The concept of "Yes, and" comes from the improvisational stage, and over the last 15 years, I've seen it transform leaders and teams across industries.

Unfortunately, a lot people think that "Yes, but" is the same thing, when actually it is an ugly, nasty, evil twin to "Yes, and."

Let's start with the basics. Improvisation is an art form where 5-6 actors arrive onstage without a script, props or costumes. They have to create a show in the moment without knowing where they are going! It works because of "Yes, and." No matter what an actor says onstage, ("I'm a goldfish!") she knows that not only will her troupe immediately accept and support the idea ("Yes, you're a goldfish!") they will also add to it. ("And I'm the aquarium keeper.") By constantly accepting whatever is contributed onstage ("Yes"), and adding to it ("And"), an improv troupe can build entire one-act plays out of thin air.

When this concept is applied to work situations, it's amazing. My clients have seen radical changes in business development, winning outcomes in negotiations, and positive engagement from employees. It's because when you apply "Yes, and" to life, people feel heard, valued and supported. It creates collaboration in times of conflict and engagement in times of trouble.

This small, positive communication tool makes a huge difference. And small things matter. So why would changing "Yes, and" to "Yes, but" be such a problem?

Have you ever shared a new thought with someone, and thought they were really on board with you? The listener says, "Yes, I get it!" (a moment of elation for you) and then, "But it will never work."

Torpedo.

You feel not only denied but also patronized.

"Yes! What a wonderful idea. But we don't have time right now."

"Yes! That's a great jacket. But do you really want to wear it to the office?"

Consider performance review time. You're getting all this great feedback. You're feeling valued. Your manager is saying, "Yes! We loved the work you did on the Acme account. You were so thorough, and the client loved you. But . . ."

It doesn't really matter what comes next. All you feel is that what came first was two-faced. Your manager was trying to make the bad news easier on you and trying to find a more comfortable way to get through the conversation herself.

I'll take some heat for my opinion, but this is one of the worst feedback mechanisms I've ever encountered. Thousands of managers and human resources professionals are trained to give a "but sandwich" when providing feedback: Give them a compliment. Give them the bad news and your suggestion for improvement. Give them another compliment as they head out the door.

Yuck.

In real life, it sounds like this: "Wow, Nina, you've done some great work on the RedBlue project. I like the new format for measurements. But our line workers are used to the old format and don't want to change to a new way of reading their information, even though it saves time on your end. So we'll have to have you manually put everything back into the old format, OK? Thanks for the great work, and keep it up with the good ideas! One will stick one of these days!"

Monitor your "Yes, but" activity. When you become aware of it, the words will begin to stand out in bold. Understand that every time that nasty word but shows up, somebody is being denied. "But" assumes other disguises, such as the devil's advocate. For some reason, we've given anyone the right to kill progress and positivity by playing the devil's advocate. They always get to look smart and discerning, yet they're just serving us a big plate of denial.

And let's be honest. As critical, adult thinkers, we have a propensity to hear something and immediately decide what is wrong or how we will phrase our rebuttal. Try suspending that urge just once. Hear the suggestion. Nod and repeat it in your head. Then, instead of saying "But," "Well," or "I don't know," say "Yes, and."

"Will you play a game with me?" To which the adult absorbed in work e-mail on a Saturday will say, "Yes, and let's go pick it out together."

"I want to consider a vendor we've never used before." To which the manager responds, "Yes, and I'll help you with some due diligence on their capabilities."

If you have negative news, be open and honest. Let your colleagues know what the issue is and ask them to be part of the solution. Tough conversations are hard to get through, but honesty and straightforwardness show much more respect than a patronizing "Yes, but."

Karen Hough is the CEO of ImprovEdge, an Amazon #1 bestselling author and contributor to the Huffington Post. Her second book published by Berrett-Koehler, "Be the Best Bad Presenter Ever: Break the Rules, Make Mistakes and Win Them Over" is available. She is the recipient of the Stevie International Silver Award for Most Innovative Company of the Year and the Athena PowerLink Award for outstanding woman-owned business. She is a Yale graduate and international speaker.