Yes, and graphic

Like you, I’m pretty tired of all of the bickering going on in the world these days, particularly on social media. Just when the world should be uniting together and staying strong, we’re becoming increasingly more divisive and destroying our communities and country from within.

I’m reflecting on a life lesson that was a HUGE game-changer for me when approaching conflict, and I hope it means a little something for you. The lesson I learned came from improv comedy. 

In improv, there’s a rule called “Yes, and…” Tina Fey wrote about it in her memoir Bossypants. The “Yes, and” rule basically says that in order to improvise a scene effectively, you have to agree with the people you’re acting with, then add your own ideas to theirs. If actors don’t follow this rule in improv, the scene becomes a train wreck. Here’s what that disaster might look like:

Actor #1: Gee, isn’t it great to be here at Disneyland?
Actor #2: Disneyland?? What are you talking about!? We’re here on the moon!!

In this non-example, actor #1 immediately got shut down. She’s uncomfortable. The audience is uncomfortable. Actor #1 might come back and argue that they are, in fact at Disneyland, and the tension would just build from there. The scene wouldn’t be able to progress.

Here’s how the “Yes, and” rule could help:

Actor #1: Gee, isn’t it great to be here at Disneyland?
Actor #2: I know, right? And isn’t it even better that they built a Disneyland here on the MOON?!

By saying “yes” to Actor #1’s ideas, Actor #2 was able to validate her ideas. Then, by saying “and,” Actor #2 was able to contribute meaningfully to the scene. The audience has a great time, Second City is born, and we get shows like Whose Line is it Anyway?, SNL, 30 Rock, and a whole host of other comedic masterpieces and geniuses that help distract us from all the chaos going on in the world around us.

It gets even better. The “yes, and” rule works in everyday life, too!

We all have different opinions, and social media is great vehicle for making those opinions heard. Sometimes, though, when those opinions clash, that’s when things get really uncomfortable. You’ve probably seen something like this:

Person #1: Blue Lives Matter.
Person #2: Blue lives?? I think you mean black lives matter! Cops are corrupt. They’re killing innocent black people. They’re causing the problems.

Person #1: Oh yeah? Have you seen what’s going on in the world? Innocent cops, even black cops are getting killed in the line of duty! Do their lives not matter??

And on and on and on it goes. Go on long enough, obscenities are thrown at one another. Friends become unfriended. Everybody’s angry.

Feeling uncomfortable yet?

Now suppose we were to apply the rule of “yes, and” to this conversation.

Person #1: Blue Lives Matter.
Person #2: YES, they do matter. You’re right, it’s terrible that these officers have died in the line of duty!

Saying “yes” validates the other person’s point of view. Now say “and” and add a little more.

Person #2: AND I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of people supporting the Black Lives Movement would condemn the behavior of the few who kill these cops.
Person #1: You’re probably right. Not all cops are bad, so I guess it’s safe to say that not all protestors are bad, either.
Person #2: What can you and I do together to support BOTH causes?

When we argue with people who don’t see things our way, it instantly becomes “No, but.” The others don’t feel heard, they get defensive, and . . . well, you know the rest. If we practice the “yes, and” rule, however, we can have meaningful dialogue. It may be we never see eye to eye, and that’s okay. We can agree to disagree, but we can do it with civility.

I’d love to see this happen at the Capitol, too. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for politicians practice the “yes, and” rule with their constituents? Wouldn’t it be great for legislators to practice this with others at their various sessions? Wouldn’t it be great for the people in our communities to do it with one another? I’m making it my goal to listen more, agree more, and add more to the conversation. If I don’t practice “yes, and,” hold me accountable! “Yes, and” is the best way to reach win-win solutions together.