The ways of "yes, and" is a way to discover your collaborative potential

Creative independenceIf there is a better way than a genuine Yes, and to bridge personal differences, I’m open to it! Yes combined with a sincere And (YES/AND), instead of but, opens up a world of potential.  This was hit home again to me last week during a workshop session on games and exercises to stimulate creativity in mediators. Included were some exercises around YES/AND.  The session was led by Sharon Sutherland, a University of British Columbia professor with a background including law, mediation and theatre.  The session was part of a professional development workshop for mediators (self included) in the BC Court Mediation Program.  (Note: I use the capitalized forms of yes, and, and but as much as possible in this post.  I think it makes it easier to read)

Discovering YES/AND

The first time I really clued into the power of YES/AND came during a mediation course I attended at the Justice Institute of BC, 10 years earlier, taught by Michael Fogel.  Michael posed a challenge to the class see if you can conduct an entire conversation (especially one with positional conflict) without using the word BUT, and replace the word BUT with AND.  It wasn’t easy, and it still isn’t!

Forward to last week Sharon had us exploring our creative side through improvisatory exercises from the world of theatre.  For most of us, being in YES/AND thinking mode can feel unnatural, and requires a break from our usual habits in order to make YES/AND a daily practice. If one feels like they spend too much time using their left brain, then creative exercises e.g., to free your inner YES/AND can help.


The word BUT has energy in the wrong kind of way.  Using BUT too many times quickly kills the ability to work productively, together.  On the other hand, YES/AND offers the potential (at least as I see it) for:

  • Acknowledgement. At a basic level, YES is a way of saying you matter!; we all want to be acknowledged and respected in some form
  • Inclusiveness. YES/AND opens us up to the larger possibilities; of what both you and I have to offer
  • Abundance. AND implies additional new options; without taking existing options off the table (think BUT)
  • Collaboration. Collaboration involves working together to find common interests; YES/AND lubricates our collaboration engine, and starts us down the path to finding those shared interests
  • Flow. The comma after YES (as in Yes,) suggests taking a breath, pausing, without bringing the conversation to a dead stop (pox on BUT), and then channelling the flow elsewhere e.g., to your interests

More about YES/AND and the collaborative mindset

Similar to my post on what to do when confronted with a situation that is new to your experience, saying YES can be a way (through self-talk) to acknowledge how one is feeling/thinking in the moment they confront a new experience (e.g., he’s crazy!), then letting go of those thoughts, and becoming open, saying hello, to what’s before one. This is the collaboration mindset.

In a similar vein to YES/AND, I recently read the book The Opposable Mind – How successful leaders win through integrative thinking, by Roger Martin.  Drawing on many real-world business cases, Roger talks about the creative, positive power of BOTH-AND vs. the limiting EITHER-OR.  Of how, when faced with unpleasant trade-offs, we must think harder, more expansively, more creatively leading to creative resolution of tensions.

Are you practicing YES/AND on a daily basis? What path did you take in order to be able to do that?

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to my blog. Thanks, Ben.

Photo credit: nattu


  1. What a positive blog! I will enjoy reading your upcoming posts.

  2. Thanks Beth. Nice to know that it’s coming across that way.

Speak Your Mind