And they were not “Yes, and.”
They were “Accept” and “Contribute.”
“Yes, and” is improv’s pithy tee shirt. But the idea is bigger than that and “Yes, and” is too limiting.
Yes, agreement is a noble goal, “and” ideally we build off each other’s contributions.
But “Yes” is only important versus “No” – a scene based in conflict or negotiation is definitively stymied while a scene based in accepting each other’s statements tend to move forward. Between outright rejection (“Eiffel tower? Fuck you; we’re in a library.”) and slavish agreement (“Yes, the toaster is new and shiny.”) though there is a world of gray to play in. “Yes, and” can paint us too tightly into a corner where together we’re just exploring one idea, whereas an expanded notion of “Yes, and” – “Accept & Contribute” – can allow multiple different (and even contrasting) ideas to exist and flourish.
We Can Accept And Feel Differently
Together “Yes, and” implies “I heard your contribution and here’s my additional take on it.” “(Yes), I (too) love Shark Week; (and) I watch every day.” But we can Accept that our fellow player feels a certain way about a certain thing and we can build on that contribution without having to Agree. “I love Shark Week.” “Oh, man, I don’t even turn on the TV that week for fear of seeing an advertisement.” This is not conflict; this is two players sharing their personal feelings. Player One can continue heightening her love and Player Two can continue feeling afraid.
We Can Accept And Not Acknowledge
Recently in a workshop one player initiated with “Oh, God, my hand’s shrinking!” and his scene partner joined with “That was an awesome party last night.” Afterward another student asked, “When [the second player] ignores [the first player’s] issue, isn’t that going against the idea of ‘yes’ and agreement?” See how slavish devotion to “Yes, And” can restrict our brains? We discussed the players HAD Accepted each other’s point of view – even if they didn’t Acknowledge each other, they allowed each point of view to exist without disagreement or negotiation. There was a great party last night and today one guy’s hand is shrinking.
When we allow ourselves to play this way we allow our audience to play in the spaces between. In this case, it was fun to watch additional players enter and have each expound on the awesome party while our initiator continued to heighten his concern. The improvisers did have to directly address the juxtaposition for the audience to assume that clearly something from the party is responsible for the hand shrinking.
Accept & Contribute Is More Applicable To Real Life Than “Yes, And”
In our improv cult we love talking about how improv skills are life skills. “Say ‘YES,’ man!” I do this a lot. But you can’t always say yes. You can though always Accept.
“Trump is a great man.” Not going to say “yes” to that. But I can accept the fact that this person believes that statement and Contribute my own stance. “You’re a Trump supporter; I’m going to go stand over there.”
The fact is: committing to “accepting and contributing” in the face of potential conflict will also lay the foundation for any potential bridging of ideas. My career has been based on being a Researcher (no, improv does not pay bills, just bar tabs). Imagine that as a Researcher I approached my CEO and said, “If you move forward with your plan, Consumer feedback shows that they will react negatively,” and the CEO said, “We’re moving forward with the plan.” How’s that going to affect my mood and my interest in working hard on the next research project?
Imagine instead that my CEO and I both committed to the “Accept & Contribute” method:
Me: “My research shows consumers will react negatively to the plan if it comes to fruition.”
CEO: “I hear that Consumers won’t be happy. Know though that this decision is being made primarily for the Regulators.”
Me: “I understand why aspects of this plan might appeal to Regulators. Consumers are reacting to this part of the plan.”
CEO: “Oh, we can drop that part of the plan. Patrick, you’re fucking brilliant.”
In this example, my CEO and I sidestep disagreement and build a way forward by 1st: Hearing each other and then 2nd: Sharing our perspective. As a result we both walk away richer for the experience and, in this case, we came to a mutually agreeable solution.
“Yes, And” wouldn’t have gotten us there. “Accept & Contribute” did.
Don’t throw out “Yes, And” or the tee shirt you have those words printed on. Just widen your understanding of what those words are intended for. Don’t let the idea that you always have to Agree keep you from the wider world of scene possibilities.
“Accept & Contribute.” Less pithy. More useful.