Take a look at the difference between these two sets of statements:
“No, but what I’m saying is” “No, but that’s incorrect”
“Yes, and I think...” “Yes, and you make a good point, but”
There’s a big difference in tone here. “No, but” closes the other person’s thought process; “Yes, and” allows you to build on what the other person is saying.
The idea of “yes and”-ing comes from the improv world, where actors accept the situation they’re given and build on it. In improv, you can’t shut down what your fellow actors say throughout the course of a scene. Imagine a scene where an actor says, “What a cold day in New York City! I’m going to move to San Francisco." You, as their fellow actor, have two options: 1. “No, but it’s not that cold. Get over it and wear a coat!” 2. “Yes, and as soon as you get to San Francisco, you’ll realize it’s just sweater weather all year long!”
The first option doesn’t leave the first actor with much room to grow the scene and kills the conversation. The second option allows the first actor with a chance to defend San Francisco. You two could get into a fight about New York versus San Francisco, for example, whereas the first option leaves the options of moving on to a different topic or arguing how cold is “cold." Which scenario is more exciting I’ll leave for you to decide.
I used to “no, but” a lot. Well, actually, I still do — more than I would like. For me, personally, it boiled down to two things: I felt that by saying “no, but” my point would stand out more (therefore, an ego issue), and it was also a sign of having a negative attitude. But taking down other people’s points, no matter how unintentional, isn’t the way to make progress with ideas. Just like actors can’t progress on a scene if given a dead end, I learned that I need to pave a path to build bigger and better ideas rather than starting from square one.
Now, I’m not advocating for always saying “yes, and.” There’s times where you really do need to start over or need to disagree. What I am advocating for is a shift in mentality to embrace others’ ideas and encourage collaboration.
This concept of “yes, and”-ing extends far beyond the improv world. By affirming what others say when you work with them, you create a more open environment than you would by drawing a line in the sand with “no, but.” You create empathy with others and an environment where those you’re collaborating with feel heard.
Opinions aren’t zero sum. The negation of someone’s opinion doesn’t automatically give weight to your own. Say “yes, and” more often and see where it takes you.