By Gerry Murray. 04-09-2022
(Scroll down for a laugh)

"You think because you understand one that you must therefore understand two because one and one make two. But you forget that you must also understand and." ~ Sufi teaching

I came across this Sufi quote in two separate books in the past week - Simon Covey's "First Things First" and Dona Meadows' "Thinking in Systems", both seminal works in their respective fields. 

Covey was talking about how to balance the various Roles we have in life. He also stated that "Balance isn't either/or; it's and".  The notion of balance underpins the principle of how we can apply Paradox Coaching tools to understand and develop our Adaptive Capacity. If you haven't yet watched my TEDx talk on the subject you can click here

Meadows was highlighting that a system is more than a sum of its parts. A nice illustration of the power of the word "and" is how she explains how to know whether you're looking at a system or simply a bunch of stuff. 

(A) Can you identify parts?... and
(B) Do the parts affect each other?... and
(C) Do the parts together produce an effect that is different from the effect of each part on its own?... and
(D) Does the effect, the behaviour over time, persist in a variety of circumstances?

So, how could "and" perhaps change the world? 

About 20 years ago I found myself at a conference in Finland organised by the Society for Organisational Learning (SOL), which was established by the legendary Peter Senge (The 5th Discipline), who was also in attendance. 

I had the opportunity to attend several workshops and one that appealed to me was how to apply improv theatre techniques in developing rapport, teamwork, creativity, etc... We had a lot of fun and we got to play many improv games including the famous "Yes, and" game. 

The idea behind "Yes, and" is that it helps us limit the use of the phrase "Yes, but!" which can be a source of disagreement, conflict and an instant creativity killer. 

It's not easy to replace "Yes, but" with "Yes, and".  When you practice doing it you'll notice that it helps conversations flow better and allows people to disagree without getting into major conflict because I can take what you suggest and respond by saying: "Yes, and I could offer some alternative ways of looking at this." Or, "Yes, and I'd like to hear your reasoning behind your thinking". 

By using more of the phrase "Yes, and" in our lives, we can build better rapport and trust, be more creative, reduce conflict escalation and ensure a more psychologically safe environment at work and at home. 

It's also a key negotiating skill because it helps establish the building blocks of a negotiated agreement. 

Of course, if we don't use it sincerely then it'll come across that way. And, what I've discovered is that the more I practice using it and experience its benefits the more it becomes integrated into my natural way of communicating. 

[By the way, "Yes, but" can be a very effective phrase in some contexts!]

Could "and" really change the world? 

It strikes me that having more beneficial and productive conversations might go some way towards reducing the amount of polarization we currently seem to have in politics, world affairs and society. For some practical examples, check out my Leading People podcast episode on Conversational Capacity.

It would also help leaders better understand the Systems that they are dealing with so that they might make better policy decisions that in turn would hopefully benefit us all. 



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“The key to being a good manager is keeping the people who hate me away from those who are still undecided.” ~ Casey Stengel

“When trouble arises and things look bad, there is always one individual who perceives a solution and is willing to take command. Very often, that person is crazy.” ~ Dave Barry

“People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.” ~ Thomas Sowell

“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t!” ~  Margaret Thatcher

“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.” ~  George Carlin

“People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.” ~ Isaac Asimov

“The problem with being a leader is that you’re never sure if you’re being followed or chased.” ~ Claire A. Murray

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” ~ Dalai Lama
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