Being a “Yes and” Person in a “No but” World

About 20 years ago I had a rather transformative experience while pursuing a hobby. I didn’t suspect that the class I was embarking upon would have such broad impact on my life.

As a professional speaker, I envisioned possible stage benefits from learning improvisational comedy skills but I hadn’t appreciated the benefits that improv training would provide me in my role as a leader or as a consultant charged with helping organizations increase the quality of experiences they provided to their customers.

So in the hope that principles of improv might help you lead positive customer-focused changes, I thought I would outline a few improv tools over a series of blog posts. The first principle is “YES AND.”

Imagine you walk onto an empty stage and are expected to create a plausbile yet funny scene for an audience. Let’s assume you start by asking for a suggestion of a location and someone in the the audience yells out a “bowling alley.” Further imagine, you embrace that suggestion because it saves you from having to come up with your own starting place. In essence, you say “YES” to the suggestion AND begin to create the scene by lifting an imaginary bowling ball. Let’s further assume that another actor from your improv troupe enters the stage and says, “Hey Gus, I got 5 dollars that says you will blow this last frame and miss your perfect game.” You respond, “I’ll see your 5 dollar bill and raise you 10.”   Great – your scene is taking shape! Think about what would happened if your response to your colleague was, “I am not Gus and what are you talking about a perfect game.”

YES AND is a powerful response to so many business situations where you might wish to inspire innovation or side-step false choices. For example, I am often asked if a client’s company should first improve their employee experience or their customer experience. My answer is often “YES AND lets look at how we can realistically and successfully make some progress on each.”

Senior leaders at companies like The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company or Mercedes-Benz (the subjects of my books The New Gold Standard and Driven to Delight, respectively) have often cited the phrase “the answer is “YES” now what is the question?” As such, those leaders strive to say YES to team members and customers. Let’s assume a customer asks for something that can’t be provided at the Ritz-Carlton, service professionals (the ladies and gentlemen of the Ritz-Carlton) are discouraged from saying NO, while instead identifying what can be provided. In extraordinary service brands, YES AND becomes the default mindset!

So how will you answer this question? Will you seek to be a YES AND leader in a NO BUT world?

Hmmm, consider that question to be your first opportunity to demonstrate this important skill…

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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