The “Yes, and…” principle

Photo courtesy of Comedy Sportz

Photo courtesy of Comedy Sportz

Have you ever been to a comedy improv show or tried improvisation? My husband and some friends and I went to Comedy Sportz recently and had a great time. I was reminded how difficult improvisation is. When it’s done well it looks easy, but having taken some improv lessons I know it’s not. You have to be a quick thinker, have a strong knowledge of pop culture and a good sense of humor.

One of the keys to making improv work is following the “Yes, and…” principle – which means when working with someone on a sketch your response to what they are saying should always be positive and should add to what they are saying. That’s what makes improv possible.

At the Comedy Sportz show they invited an audience member up for one of the sketches. When the volunteer was in the sketch with another player her responses were negative rather than being positive. This is pretty typical of untrained or beginner improvisation actors. Unfortunately, it made it difficult to take the skit to the next level.

For instance, one of the themes was related to goats, and the professional improv performer said something like, “My goat is eating the grass on the highway.” (As odd as that sounds it was in response to audience suggestions and made sense in the context.) The volunteer responded, “The whole highway, how are they possibly going to eat all the grass on the highway?” Her response didn’t help the performer; it didn’t move the storyline forward. Had she said something like “Wow, that’s impressive! We could start a business where we rent out goats to eat highway grass far and wide. We could get them little hard hats and orange vests.”

As I was watching the skit I thought about how much manners is like improv. When you are positive and helpful conversation goes much smoother. People feel appreciated and connections become deeper. Being negative doesn’t help anyone including yourself.

This applies to work meetings as well. Think how powerful it would be if rather than dismissing someone’s idea you said “Yes, great idea and we could also do xyz?” It keeps the conversation and ideas flowing. People feel appreciated and heard. Progress is made.

So, whether you’re doing improvisation or meeting with someone, try the “Yes, and…” approach. I guarantee it will be more positively received and will lead to good things.

 

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