Always say "Yes, and"........
Always say “Yes, and” - How the Rules of Improvisation Can Make Us Better Leaders
Although research from other quarters indicate that employees are generally disengaged, a recent survey discussed in Canadian HR Reporter found 54% of employees make more than 20 suggestions each year to their manager. “By making suggestions, employees demonstrate that they’re thinking about getting the job done, and done well.” So how do you as a leader respond to those ideas? Is it with a NO, or an improv YES! Do you have the will to consider the idea, focus on the present and add to the dialogue?
Tina Fay of 30 Rock and Saturday Night Life fame began her career as part of an improvisation team with The Second City. I believe her rules of improv described in her book, Bossypants, may make us better leaders.
Rule #1 of Improv – Always Agree
In improv, when someone gives us a statement, we are not allowed to disagree. We are required to agree. Regardless of what our partner has thrown our way, we are required to agree to their premise so we may begin the scene. How often as managers have we said “no” when we could have said “yes” to begin a dialogue? Are we more likely to respond “No that isn’t going to work” or “No we don’t have the money for that idea” when a person brings us innovative treasure?
In the workplace, certainly there are situations where “yes” is not an appropriate response. But when we can, Fay suggests that “yes” communicates that we “respect what our partner (in dialogue) has created” and that we are open to see where the dialogue may go.
Rule #2 of Improv – Always And
Second rule of improvisation is not only to say “yes” but to say “yes, and”. If we merely agree with the other person, we don’t move the dialogue further along. “We could open up an office in Toronto” may be responded with “Toronto is a desirable market” or “Good, we already have clients in Toronto”.
Rule #3 of Improv – Make Statements
To those of us trained to ask questions to pull out information from subordinates and colleagues, this rule may seem counter-intuitive. But by asking many questions without inserting statements, a leader may put pressure on the other person in the dialogue to come up with all the solutions and answers.
Whatever is the situation, by balancing statement and question we become part of the solution, not just a person raising questions regarding the issue. What information can we share, what opinions do we have, what insights have we gleaned that we can add to the dialogue?
Rule #4 of Improv – There are no Mistakes
Are there only opportunities, and no mistakes? Improv masters think so. Tina Fay suggests there are only “beautiful, happy accidents”. We know that major discoveries and inventions have been created by accident. The secret of this rule of improv is to see what you have made, and explore the possibilities beneath.
While executive producer for the fundraising event “Come in out of the Cold Comedy Festival”, I had the opportunity to work with over 20 comics and improv artists. My key learning from watching Improv masters is that flexibility can create answers and solutions that are not normally on our radar screen. We have the ability to pull unique solutions from each other if we allow our creative side in.