Monday, September 5, 2016

Yes, but no

A former colleague from the University of Wisconsin-Madison once showed me how to build trust within teams through the "Yes and" approach. When you say "Yes," you provide agreement. If you build on that and say "Yes and," you lend support.

Practicing "Yes and" can be a very powerful team building exercise. When I experienced this in a workshop, we did it this way: We broke up into small groups (three or four people) and had one person start with a statement. The group (including the first person) took turns saying "Yes and" to build on the statement: "I'm enjoying today's workshop." "Yes, and you can use the lessons in your day-to-day leadership." "Yes, and if you exercise this every day, it becomes a habit." "Yes, and I can do some defensive scheduling on my calendar to reflect on how I'm using it." When the group ran out of "Yes and" responses, we had someone else start again with a new statement.

I prefer "Yes and" statements. They are positive, reinforcing conversation tools that build trust. In contrast, "Yes but" statements erode trust. Some people seem to think it's the same as "Yes and," but it's not. "Yes but" is at best a way to stay on both sides of an issue. At worst, "Yes but" is a negating statement. The "Yes but" statement says "Yes, I agree with you, but not really."

Consider this exchange: "I'd like for us to work on project X." "Yes, but do we have the funds for it?"

The first person might be a manager identifying a new project for her team to work on. Or the first person might be a staff member suggesting a project he would like to be assigned to.

Maybe the second person was agreeing to the project idea, but was genuinely concerned if there was space in the budget to pay for it. Or maybe the second person wasn't interested in the project, and was trying to side-step it. In either case, the "Yes but" immediately presents a road-block to the conversation.

To me, if you say "Yes but," you are really saying "No." It's just a more creative "No," or a softened "No."

How would you turn this "Yes but" into a "Yes and" statement? Try converting the "but" statement into an action statement. "I'd like for us to work on project X." A manager responding to a staff member might say, "Yes, and I'll check the budget to see if we have the funds for it." A staff member answering a manager might reply, "Yes, and I'll do a rough estimate on costs so you can fit it in the budget." Both answers provide support for the idea, and raise awareness of costs and funding.
image: richoz/Flickr (cc-by)

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