There’s a concept in improv, a rule if you will, in an art where there are very few rules - it’s called YES, AND. It’s becoming more mainstream and less strictly limited to improv. It’s incredibly simple and insanely difficult at the same time.
The rule is whatever anyone says to you, agree with them. YES! Let that sink in for a minute: whatever anyone says to you, agree with them. Difficult? You betcha!
Some people are obviously more agreeable in general, but very few people say Yes to everything. Although there are many, many people who do say NO to every single thing that is laid out to them. They disagree; they contradict; they argue.
In fact, in 2005, Robert Schrauf, associate professor of linguistics at Penn State, started analyzing data and found that we have a preponderance of negative words to positive ones. He found that one-half of all the words people produce from their working vocabulary to express emotion were negative. Now that doesn’t mean that 50% were positive and that it was an even split. 50% were negative, 30% were positive, and 20% were neutral. This was found across different ages and cultures.
So proof positive, if you will, that we are negative.
Back to YES, AND. When we force ourselves to agree right off the bat, it takes away the friction, the defensiveness. It allows the speaker to be heard. And isn’t that what we all want? To be honest, that is what YES says. It says, “Yes, I hear you.” And that’s a huge gift.
Now, lest you worry that you will find yourself pulling a Jim Carrey in Yes Man, or Jennifer Garner in Yes Day, this is where the AND comes in. AND puts your own spin on the idea or suggestion. YES, we should get ice cream, AND it will be more enjoyable if we eat it after dinner.
There are improv games that help players practice this. It’s amazing to watch. Once people get used to the idea and force themselves to say YES when every fiber of their being is screaming Nooooo, the very next word they say is BUT. YES, BUT…. Sorry. Thanks for playing. You’ll be leaving the game show with a year’s worth of Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat.
You see, YES, BUT is the same thing as NO. Try it.
“Would you like to go out to lunch?” (Why do all my examples revolve around food?)
Yes, I would like to go out to lunch, BUT...I’m busy; I have other plans; I don’t feel well; I’m broke; and a hundred other ways of saying NO.
I told you so. I know it’s true because I do it all constantly.
It’s time for a little experiment. It’s one thing to remember to say YES, AND when you’re playing an improv game whose sole aim is to train you to say yes to anything that is said to you in the next 5 minutes. Real life with real people asking you to do real things is a whole other matter. Regardless, today I pledge to say YES, AND all day. I’ll let you know how it goes. But please be on standby in case I use my one phone call from the jail to ask you to call my lawyer.