Teaching Naysayers “Yes, And”

Improv guys

It is hard working with someone who is always saying why something won’t work. There’s a “But” for each and every suggestion that other team members make. You’ve tried talking to the person, but that hasn’t worked. Maybe it’s time to play a bit.

Improv theater uses an activity named “Yes, And…” It teaches people to accept and support each other. You might try it just before a meeting where you expect the naysayer to squash the group’s creativity.

Pair people up and give each pair a chance to be “on stage.”  The activity begins when one person makes a suggestion. The second person has to follow the statement with one of his own that begins with “yes, and…” and then the first person follows with a “yes, and…” of her own.  The activity continues until the pair runs out of steam or they hit a set number of exchanges or a time limit.  Here’s what it might look like.

Person 1: “All gardens should be organic.”

Person 2: “Yes, and organic fertilizers ought to be readily available.”

Person 1: “Yes, and those fertilizers should be cheap too.”

Person 2: “Yes, and cheap fertilizer would make the vegetables less expensive.”

Person 1: “Yes, and vegetables should taste as good as ice cream.”

Person 2: “Yes, and ice cream should be good for you.”

And on it goes, just listening to the statement and responding with something that supports and then adds to it.

Is it contrived? Absolutely. Will it turn the naysayer into a supportive team-player? Hard to say. I think you ought to give it a whirl. Yes, and maybe it will work. Yes, and maybe the team members will become more supportive of each other. Yes, and then the team might be more productive.

Photo by House Of Sims

By Tom LaForce

Tom LaForce owns LaForce Teamwork Services, a Minneapolis-based consulting company. He's on a mission to create better results through teamwork. He wrote Meeting Hero: Plan and Lead Engaging, Productive Meetings.


  1. Tom, great exercise. One key to its success is that the “Yes, and” must be genuine. It can’t be “Yes, but” in clever disguise.

    I have noticed that teams become much more aware of their responses and reactions to others’ comments and positions. Many are surprised to discover how quickly they critique or to defend.

    Making people aware is one step to creating positive change.

  2. It’s like when I teach people “I statements,” instructing them to offer the feeling about the impact the other person’s behavior is having on them. In practice sessions I’ve heard, “And I FEEL like you are jerk.” Not quite what I had in mind.

    Thanks for the comment Greg.

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