March 9, 2020

Creating Connection with “Yes,And”​


Reminding us all of a powerful tool to create connection! communication connection relationships appreciation effectiveness listening training coaching organiccommunication

Try this exercise: Every time someone makes a recommendation, offers a suggestion or brings up their point of view, say “no, but…” and follow it up with your idea. OK, but only do this if you want to alienate people and create conflict. It’s incredible that these two words have the power to destroy and derail conversations. You’d think it’s mostly what follows these words – an opposing opinion or an explanation of why something can’t or shouldn’t be done – that hurts the interaction. Truth is that when communication experiments are conducted, by the likes of people like myself, we find that you can be providing agreeable, helpful, meaningful commentary after your “no, but” – and still be perceived as an opponent who shot down the preceding thought, question or request and that you’re now firing from your side of the conversation with adversarial artillery.

If your goal is to create connection, bridge divides, cultivate cohesion, and elevate harmony, you have to pay extremely careful attention to your words. “No” and “but” and the caustic combination: “No, but” will infuse drama and dysfunction into your professional sphere and personal space. The very spirit and tone of these words will trigger the other person to put up a defensive guard and shut down or fire back. It’s psychological and scientific: Trigger – stimulus – response. If I push the negative button, even unintentionally, I will get the negative response, immediately, unconsciously and automatically. And where does that leave us? Where we often find ourselves – in a downward spiral of hurt feelings, unmet needs, unheard expressions, injured relationships and unaccomplished results.

So let’s un-do this! Easier said than done, of course, but stay and play with me, please, because the reward is so great. Imagine a meeting where the participants fully hear each other out, and then build onto what’s been said and shared in a safe space. People are expanding, broadening and deepening the discussion with their words. They are not agreeing with or agreeing to everything they hear; they are listening intentionally and meaningfully and adding their thoughts, concerns, questions and requests.

This CANNOT be achieved with a “no, but” reaction or mentality. If I say something, however out there it may be, and you follow up with “no, but” – even if your intention is to warn me that it’s a dangerous approach, or help me see why you’ve tried that before and the consequences were less than desirable – all I hear is “no.” I’m wrong, I failed, I disappointed, I messed up and my ego and identity have been publicly injured. I’m humiliated and physiologically, I start to experience a racing heart, restless legs, shaky hands, clammy palms and constricting throat. I can no longer engage in a rational and productive discussion. My brain feels like it was hijacked by an emotional presence that wants to protect me from what feels like a very personal attack. I want to escape the situation, so I may excuse myself and walk away; I want the attacker to stop, so I fire back by raising my voice and insisting I’m right and you’re wrong; I don’t know what to do, so I panic or freeze and lose all of my agency and faculty. This is not an exaggeration of what happens when we, with our primitive, reptilian brains still very much a part of our physical makeup, are triggered by a “no, but” response to our messages. We may not experience all of these at once, but the fight, flight, freeze and faint reactions are hardwired into our systems.

Thanks to the Aristotle project at Google, a study that focused on what makes successful teams thrive, there has been increasing discussion and cultivation of the important notion of “psychological safety.” Can you be vulnerable with the people you live and work with? Are you allowed to and do you allow yourself to bring and share your whole at the conference and dinner tables? Do you take down your social mask? Can you take risks and voice your thoughts and desires without worrying about retribution or embarrassment? A “no, but” verbal and nonverbal response to our communication does not produce psychological safety and connection. It’s a distancing remark. When someone says “no, but” they usually accompany those words with a shake of the head from side to side in disagreement; a glaring stare or a look up over our heads, off into the distance or down at the floor or their hands; their tone and mannerism shifts from casual and friendly to low and closed. “No, but” is a losing proposition. It offends, judges, condescends and limits the possibility to connect ideas and individuals.

“Yes, and” on the contrary, has the opposite effect. These two short, simple, sweet words have the power to build, open, expand, elevate and connect. “Yes” absolutely does not and should not connote unquestioning agreement. What are you really saying “yes” to when you respond to another person? You’re simply, yet powerfully, stating that “yes, I heard you.” You’re also indicating: “I understand what you’re saying,” “I hear where you’re coming from,” “I have fully listened to you,” “I am clear on what I believe I hear you saying.” It’s taking a pause, a breath and a beat. It’s demonstrating considerate communication and also internalizing the other person’s words and the feelings behind those words. Communication is not a competition (unless it’s a debate) and an exchange of ideas is an opportunity to connect and not engage in a winner-loser contest or battle. When I say something to my husband, when I ask a question in an interview, when I make a recommendation in a coaching session – I appreciate it when there’s a pregnant pause. The other person hasn’t checked out or tuned me out; they are taking my idea or question in, usually nodding a “yes” as they digest it “and” then moving on to respond with their point of view, answer, thoughts or requests. When we give ourselves more time to dialogue, we stretch the space between stimulus and response and make room for connection.