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  1. Business
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What Is the “Yes And…” Improv Rule? (+ Business Use Tips for 2022)

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Read Time: 10 mins

Have you been researching traditional advice on improving your productivity? You might have heard that you need to say “No” more often so you can focus on the tasks that'll move the needle. 

Adult students surrounding a teacher in a drama classAdult students surrounding a teacher in a drama classAdult students surrounding a teacher in a drama class
The "Yes and..." improv rule applies to more than just acting. (Image source: Envato Elements)

While saying "no" certainly has its merits, it can also lead you to saying “no” to ideas that can hinder your business growth. It can prevent you from exploring exciting opportunities that could take your business or career in a whole new direction. 

But what if it doesn’t have to be this way? In this guide, we’ll explore how you can use the “Yes and…” rule of improv to allow yourself to explore new possibilities. We'll also discuss still being able to say “No” to opportunities and activities that don’t serve you. 

What Is the “Yes And…” Principle?

First, let’s start by explaining what is the “Yes and…” principle. In a nutshell, the “Yes and…” is an improv technique dating back to the 1950s. 

According to one source, the “Yes and…” principle was developed as part of Kitchen Rules by the Compass Players. The core principles are based on the methods taught and developed by Viola Spolin

Gold comedy and tragedy masks on an orange background.Gold comedy and tragedy masks on an orange background.Gold comedy and tragedy masks on an orange background.
The "Yes and..." rule was born out of improv acting classes. (Image source: Envato Elements)

The “Yes and…” rule, along with other rules, was a result of different experiments to make improv scenes run more smoothly. The rule seems simple at first: you’re supposed to say yes to your partner’s idea and flesh it out further by adding your own information to the scene. 

It’s the basic rule of acceptance but how does it actually work? Let’s take a look at a practical example. First, we've got the “Yes” part. Let’s say that one improviser gets on the stage and sets the scene by saying: 

“Last week, I saw a blue giraffe.” 

The second improviser replies with “Yes”. But they can’t stop there, otherwise the scene is dead in the water. They've got to add to it. That’s where the “…and” part comes in. So, the second improviser could go on to say: 

“Yes, and it had reading glasses too!” 

The third improviser then needs to continue on by saying “Yes” and adding their own details. 

By following this principle, you could end up with an elaborate story of a blue giraffe that’s actually a mayor of the city in a world where animals behave like humans. 

Now imagine what would happen if the second person in this example flat out rejected the premise of a blue giraffe and said there's no such thing. 

This is a rather simplistic example. But it illustrates the basis for collaborative work and pushing your creative thinking skills further. 

The Case for Using the “Yes And…” Principle Outside of Improv

So now you know how the “Yes And…” principle works. But what’s the benefit of using it outside of improv? As mentioned earlier, the “Yes And…” principle is about acceptance. But that doesn’t mean that you need to start saying yes to everything, even if you disagree with it. 

Let’s say you’re dealing with a roommate that wants you to cover half the price for a new TV. But you’re trying to save up for a new car and can’t justify covering that cost. 

Using Yes And in Personal LifeUsing Yes And in Personal LifeUsing Yes And in Personal Life
You can use the "Yes And..." strategy in your personal life. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Saying “Yes, a new TV would be awesome” tells the roommate that you've acknowledged what they said and affirmed them. 

If you continue the conversation by saying “But it simply isn’t in the cards now” you've effectively shot their idea down without any explanation. As a result, they might end up feeling hurt or disappointed which can put a strain on your relationship. 

Now, let’s take a look at what happens if you continue the conversation by using the “Yes And…” rule: 

“Yes, a new TV would be awesome and it’s not possible for me to contribute right now. Here’s why….” 

By framing your response in this way, you’re doing several things: 

  • affirming their desire for a new TV
  • giving them a response that’s not a definitive rejection
  • opening up the conversation for alternative possibilities such as waiting with the TV purchase

In other words, by using “but” in your reply or a flat-out “No,” you’re shutting the conversation down and making the other side feel unappreciated. 

Why the “Yes And…” Principle Is Effective in a Business Setting

So far, we’ve seen an example of the “Yes And…” principle as used in improv as well as how it can be used in day-to-day situations. But how can this principle be effective in a business setting? 

The answer is simple. When used in a business setting, the “Yes And…” principle:

The main goal behind the “Yes And…” rule was to make improv scenes run smoother. Similarly, in a business setting, it helps to carry the conversation forward and develop the original suggestion. 

It also ensures that all participants are actively listening as they need to be aware of what was said so they can continue with their own additions. 

Thirdly, this approach allows everyone to get their idea out on the table instead of the same few individuals that always seem to steal the spotlight. 

Tips and Examples for Using the “Yes And…” Rule in Business

As mentioned earlier, the ​​“Yes And…” rule of improv is a great way to spark your creativity. Here’s how you can use this effectively in business:

1. Meeting With Investors

When you’re meeting with investors, it’s common for them to have a lot of questions. They might even phrase their questions as objections. After all, they just want to make sure that they’re making a good investment. 

A man pointing at a whiteboard with two people looking on. A man pointing at a whiteboard with two people looking on. A man pointing at a whiteboard with two people looking on.
You can apply the "Yes and..." method when discussing projects with investors, too. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Using the “Yes And…” rule shows them that you've acknowledged their concerns. It also provides you with an opportunity to address those concerns in a friendly manner instead of going on the defensive. The latter can make you come across as aggressive which can ruin your chances of securing the investment. 

2. Developing New Strategies or Offers

Use the “Yes And…” technique to ideate new marketing strategies, product line or services. As a team leader, you can start off the discussion by explaining the principle behind the “Yes And…” principle. 

You can also lay down some ground rules such as avoiding the words But or No. Then, initiate the discussion by asking “what is the best way to…” or “how can we…” Each member of the team needs to add their own ideas, no matter how silly they seem. 

Write them down on a white board as they’re happening. You can always refine them later on. 

3. Build Stronger Teams

The “Yes And…” principle allows you to acknowledge what the other person has said. It fosters communication and listening. This in turn builds trust between you and your team members as well as between team members themselves. 

Build Stronger TeamsBuild Stronger TeamsBuild Stronger Teams
The "Yes And..." Principle can help with team building. (Image source: Envato Elements)

As a result, you’ll end up with a stronger team that can validate each other’s ideas, trust in their process, and have each other's back when necessary. 

4. Manage Conflict

As we’ve seen in an earlier example, the “Yes And…” principle can help you avoid stressful and argumentative situations. Instead of immediately shooting down someone’s ideas, negating them or belittling them, use the “Yes And…” principle to make them feel heard. 

This way, instead of the other person becoming frustrated and going on the offensive, you’ll be more likely to have a rational discussion. It allows you to safely express your ideas without making the other person feel misunderstood. 

5. Separate Creation and Editing Process

When we’re brainstorming, it’s not uncommon to edit ourselves at the same time. But this can slow you down, not to mention it hinders your creativity. 

With the ​​“Yes And…” rule, the story has to continue. This leaves very little room for editing on the spot. It allows you to separate the creation and the editing process and get as many ideas out there as possible. 

6. Provide a Safe Space

There's no silly idea when it comes to improvisation. You've got the complete creative freedom to build upon the story as you see fit. This can lead to some pretty interesting ideas and allows your team members to play with possibilities. 

Team of people in a creative studio space talkingTeam of people in a creative studio space talkingTeam of people in a creative studio space talking
Providing a space where people feel comfortable to communicate is essential. (Image source: Envato Elements)

They can do so safely, without the fear of being judged or misunderstood. In the end, you’ll end up with a more positive workplace where each employee feels valued and acknowledged. 

7. Develop Listening Skills

When active participation is needed, most of us tend to think about what we’re going to say while someone else is speaking. This can result in missing important information. It can also lead to ideas being repeated. 

The ​​“Yes And…” rule requires you to listen. That means all the employees need to be present in the moment and actively listen to what others are saying. After all, the success of the “scene” depends on what was said before. 

Using “Yes And…” Without Compromising Your Beliefs or Boundaries

The ​​“Yes And…” rule encourages you to be more open to different possibilities. It’s formed on the basis of acceptance. But that doesn’t mean that you need to become a person that says Yes to absolutely everything. 

It’s important to recognize when the ​​“Yes And…” rule can be used effectively and when it goes against your beliefs or impinges on your boundaries. In the latter situations, saying no is perfectly warranted. 

In fact, any situation that makes you uncomfortable doesn't require you to say yes. Saying no to such things is a powerful way to ensure you’re staying true to your boundaries and beliefs without being taken advantage of.

Simply keep in mind that the ​​“Yes And…” rule can be a powerful tool to encourage collaboration, challenge our preconceived notions, and explore various creative possibilities in order to find the best course of action. 

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Slide deck templates on Envato ElementsSlide deck templates on Envato ElementsSlide deck templates on Envato Elements

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Use the “Yes And…” Rule to Open New Possibilities in Your Business, Career, and Life

The “Yes And…” rule has its origins in comedy but that doesn’t mean it’s not applicable in other areas of our lives. In fact, by applying the “Yes And…” rule in your business or career, you can open up new possibilities for growth. 

Use the tips in this article to apply the “Yes and…” rule of improv in your life to encourage new ideas, manage conflict, build stronger teams, and discover new ways to propel your business or career forward.

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