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“Yes, And…” versus “Yes, But…” – Can Dialog be this Simple?

By Shari A. Duron, Ph.D., Senior Consultant, The Piras Group

Use 'Yes, and' instead of 'Yes, but'

Have you ever been explaining a highly valued thought to a colleague and you get an instant response of “Yes, yes, yes, but…?”

In that moment you might feel “discounted” – or hear “what you are saying is not important.”

In daily communications we speak quickly and sometimes react without thought to what we are hearing. Rather than wait, we interject what we think is a better idea or has greater value – the instant “Yes, but… “ Syndrome.

In an effort to facilitate communications especially in meetings, one effective practice is to build ground rules that eliminate the “Yes, but” syndrome and add the “Yes, and” approach. What is the difference?

"Yes, but" communicates judgment and negates what we have heard. Even if the intent is to add our ideas to the communicator’s point of view, it communicates a critical response – what is heard is not good enough and/or the listener has a better idea!

"Yes, but" is heard as adversarial causing someone to feel challenged; whereas "Yes, and" communicates, “I want to build on your idea.” 

It states “in addition” as opposed to “instead of.” One negates – the other is inclusive. 

For example, have you been explaining an idea you have labored over to someone and he says, “Wow, great idea!” Elation suspends within 2 seconds when you hear, “… but that won’t work here.” “We tried that, it failed.” Or “we don’t have the resources!” Sometimes no reasons are given or if they are, you don’t hear them – as you are still recovering from supreme elation to a “slam, dunk” in a nanosecond.

The employee review process also follows this pattern: “You did so amazingly well on this project (one second lapse) - but you need to improve here, eliminate this or that, stop using resources this way … etc.” It is likely that the recipient hears nothing except BUT.

Developing the "Yes and" approach takes practice for most leaders – maybe more for some than others. In reinforcing its use in all meetings or in 1:1 dialogs, the pattern develops and the conversation becomes more fluid and ideas become additive vs. truncated. 

Such practices may feel contrived to some, but employing "Yes and" does not mean you completely agree with someone – you probably don’t. Its use, however, will build a more participative environment where you hear what someone is saying and feel heard yourself.  Sometimes a subtle change in practice will make a major difference in effective organizational communication.

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