When actor-writer-director, Harold Ramis, died, I was reminded of a great concept that is applicable in both communications and life. Chris Jones authored a nice obituary for The Chicago Tribune in which he described Ramis as someone who lived a “yes, and” life. So what does that mean?
For those who follow comedy and improvisation, you know that improvisational actors are trained to learn and execute those words. Yes, and … refers to the performers’ need to accept, validate, and build on whatever point was created by his or her comedic partner. Doing so allows the flow of the skit or conversation to continue. Ignoring the concept makes the skit come to a halt in awkward fashion. Think about it, if the actor listens carefully and responds by validating what his partner said, and building on it, the act works. If he doesn’t acknowledge his partner, but goes in a different direction entirely, the scene doesn’t work at all. In day-to-day communications, the same thing happens. A listener who doesn’t validate what someone says before making a different point completely halts the conversation. The result? People are left feeling misunderstood and confused as to whether the other person even listened to their point.
At home, we talk about the need to listen to each other for understanding instead of listening to jump in when it’s your turn to talk. This concept is aligned with the improvisation idea in that it requires the listener to really listen deeply to truly understand the points. Whether you agree with the person or not is irrelevant because you’re keeping yourself in the moment, focused on the other person’s point-of-view.
I am surprised how many people listen for a break in a conversation, simply to jump in with an entirely different point of view. We’ve all been there. It’s the person who dislikes whatever politician you brought up in conversation. “What do you think about the new City College Program?” and the response you receive is, “Whatever the mayor does is stupid.” That person was listening only for a break in order to let you know his opinion (which he believes is the only one that counts by the way) on the mayor. It blunts the conversation. So imagine the impact in business when conversations are blunted. Can innovation happen? Can new ideas emerge? No. Just like on the stage, the conversation is entirely halted. The scene stops.
What do the concepts of listening for understanding or applying “yes, and …” mean to business or personal communications? On the personal level, it means better communications, conversations, and relationships overall. And in business, I’d add productivity, creativity, greater innovation, and better results to the list. These are signifiant impacts that can be achieved by applying a simple communications technique.
When we apply this very simple concept, we are listening to each other in an effort to understand another person’s point-of-view. We are able to flexibly build on to the original idea, or gently move in a better direction through collaboration. Each of us brings something unique to the conversation because we have different backgrounds, expertise and beliefs. We benefit from listening to each other and collaborating on ideas.
And truly, it’s just more fun.