No, Buts; Yes, Ands

The inclusive power of one word.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to go to a leadership retreat for college students as a part of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. For an entire month a group of students learned valuable lessons in leadership and spirituality, and also had a ton of fun. While there, I learned something I won’t forget.

During free time, many of the staff would give lessons or play games that they love, and one of the staff there loved improv! He gave a group of us a quick lesson on improv one day. While mostly goofy and silly, there is a valuable lesson for improv that can be taken into all aspects of our relationships. It’s the “Yes, And” rule.

Essentially, when you do improv, it’s important to always build on the idea, as opposed to closing the idea. When following what someone says, you say, “Yes, and then this…” This helps the improv continue and grow more goofy and fun. 

The adverse, “No, but…” actually hampers improv because you now have to come up with a completely new idea. Imagine coming up with an idea that you think could get goofy and someone says, “No, but this other thing…” You feel kinda dejected and hurt, don’t you? And you don’t want to support their new idea, huh?

This is why “Yes, and” is so important. It builds comraderie. It helps people connect, and you don’t have to try harder to have fun. And it doesn’t have to be a rule only for improv!

I’ve had too many people who I’ve met close off to relationships and fun by saying “no” to something that would have connected them with others. Whether it was a conversation, trying a new food, a new idea, or any number of things, “No, but…” draws a line between two people.

This is not to say we can’t disagree, but it seems sometimes that we look for disagreements. We want to be so unique and different that we fail to connect with each other. Our relationships are tired and weak because as individuals we are too busy trying to differentiate ourselves to truly relate to anyone.

The beauty of “Yes, and…” is that we begin looking for things we have in common with people. We let go of this sense of self, a false idea of who we are, and just “be” with people. Maybe we connect with people we’d never thought we could connect with? Maybe a relationship finds new life as we quit trying to be an individual and take time to live as a group.

When I say, “Yes, and…” while talking to someone, they begin to feel safe around me. They understand I won’t be trying to compete with them, and that I care about what they care about. We become related in certain ways, the relationship forms.

It’s curious to consider what our political climate could look like if we began to have discussions using more “Yes, and…” language, and less “No, but…” language. It certainly wouldn’t solve all our problems, there are real differences there, but if our conversations became more friendly that would be a great place to start.

Tomorrow, tonight, today, why don’t you actively try to relate to people by using the “Yes, and…” rule? You could find a new best friend.

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