By Gerry Murray. 24-05-2020
(Scroll down for a laugh)

"When people are divided, the only solution is agreement." ~ John Hume

It was Spring 2003 that I found myself in Espoo Finland. I had been sent there by a Communications Consultancy because of my background in Marketing Communications. I discovered a whole new world, one that would unbeknownst to me alter the course of my professional career. The conference I attended was organised by the Society for Organisational Learning (SOL), the brainchild of MIT Lecturer and best-selling author, Peter Senge (The Fifth Discipline). 

During the two days that I was there, I got to attend lectures and participate in workshops on various aspects of organisational learning. One such workshop, organised by a Danish Consultancy that specialised in using methodologies from the Arts as ways to improve learning, made a particular impact. This was my first experience of using Improv Theatre to improve communication and collaboration

Since then I’ve found Improv techniques very useful in coaching and team-building situations. In fact, I use Improve exercises as a way to check the level of psychological safety when working with teams. 

What is the Killer Phrase?

It is “Yes, BUT…”

The challenge with adding a BUT to a Yes is that it tends to diminish what the other person has just said. If what the other person has just said is based on strongly held values or beliefs then what often ensues is a heated discussion or conflict. 

In a multi-lingual country such as Belgium, where I live, I’ve noticed that its use is consistent across the 3 main languages. “Oui, MAIS…” “Ja, MAAR...” Ja, ABER…"

How do you minimise it? 

The first step is to build Awareness.

So, as a simple exercise spend a day listening for the “Yes, BUT…” phrase in conversations. Notice how often you use it. Notice how often others use it. Pay attention to what happens to conversations when it is used. What happens to the energy between people? What non-verbal information do you notice? Does it move things along to a productive or generative solution or create stuck states or conflict? 

The important thing at this stage is not to beat yourself up when you catch yourself using it. Why? Because you are not alone. It is extremely prevalent. The key question to ask yourself is: “Is it useful in this context?”

The second step then is to move to Responsibility. “What is your ability-to-respond to your new Awareness?”

Do you want to do something about your use of “Yes, BUT…”? Or, are you happy with the effect its use has on yourself and others? 

The third step is to create Resources. The most effective antidote to “Yes, BUT…” is the phrase “Yes, AND…”

And, it takes a lot of practice to install this as a replacement reflex.

What the “Yes, AND…” creates is known as an agreement frame. Now, this doesn’t mean that you agree totally with what the other person has said. It means that you’re prepared to accept it as a building block towards an agreement that works for both of you. Just like a martial artist, you use the other person’s energy to make your next move. 

The best way to discover its effectiveness is to experience it. So, for the next week, you could test out replacing your “Yes, BUTs” with “Yes, ANDs” and notice the results. 

Let’s illustrate with a simple example: 

A. “Let’s go for a walk.”
B. “Yes, BUT the weather forecast is giving rain.”
A. "Yes, AND it’s a good job we have umbrellas and waterproofs”

What you’ll find is that in many situations a “Yes, AND…” will produce a better outcome for you and the other person. It also fuels creativity as you often find a solution beyond what either you or the other person was proposing. 

And, at the same time, you’ll not find it so easy to do! And, as they say, “Practice makes Permanent”. 

By the way, there’s nothing inherently ‘wrong’ with the word BUT. In fact, it can be very useful in some situations. Especially when you want to break rapport! It’s the conscious use of it that makes the difference between achieving an effective or ineffective outcome. 

I’m curious as to how you get on...



Why are birds such great improvisers?
They're always wingin' it.

I'm the kind of man with a plan
And that plan is to improvise.

The guitarist of a band walks into their rehearsal room and sees the bassist and the drummer having an argument

Guitarist: "Why are you arguing?"
Bassist: "The drummer detuned one of my strings."
Guitarist: "So what's the problem?"
Bassist: "He won't tell me which one!"

The symphony orchestra musicians had little confidence in the person brought in to be their new conductor...

Their fears were realized at the very first rehearsal. The cymbalist, realizing that the conductor did not know what he was doing, angrily clashed her instruments together during a delicate, soft passage. The music stopped. The conductor, highly agitated, looked angrily around the orchestra, demanding, "Who did that?



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