I'm going to take you back to one of my favorite realizations, ever. It may seem simple but at the time, it was a huge lesson.
I was in my late 20's, was living far from home, and had recently reunited with an old friend I'd known since elementary school who just so happened to land in the same city. She was an improv actress (or player, as improvers are often called) and, to my delight, remained as hilarious as when we were young. She invited me to come down to see an improv show she was going to be in and I went. I practically peed my pants that night. This group was a riot. I was completely hooked and went week after week, loving the chance to hear myself belly laugh and get side aches by the end of the show. Few things bring me as much joy as laughing so hard that I can barely see through the tears. This happened to me over and over.
One night, everyone in the show was hanging out in a coffee shop below the theatre and I was invited to join the group for a late night meal and drink. YES! We headed to a sushi joint and spread out along a long table. For the next 2 hours, I listened to these people crack one another UP. No silence. No looking at phones. Everyone was just laughing their asses off.....and at the expense of no one.
I found myself tapping into my own humor and realized it was in better shape than I'd realized. I was out of practice, too focused on work and not knowing many people in this new city yet. I was ecstatic to have found these potential new friends who were laughing at MY jokes, too. It was kinda fun.
A few months into these weekly, post-show gatherings I had learned 2 things.
1. Always wear waterproof mascara and 2. I love the energy and camaraderie of these people and I want more.
I started to ponder what made this group click so well. Were they all brilliant? Were they still in the bubble of having been on statge? Had they all been friends for years? No. And yes. But mainly no.
I literally grew up in theaters. My parents had been actors my entire life and although I'd never wanted to be on stage myself, from the time I was one year old, I was there participating in some way: running the aisles, doing homework in the theatre seats, lighting, sound, props, stage managing, etc. I'd seen my fair share of actors try their hand at improv when working out scenes early in the rehearsal process and there definitely are rules to making improv work. You need to learn them and get pretty good or once you hit the stage, the moment will fall apart before you've even started. The rule at the top of the list is: Yes, and.
When you step onto an improv stage, you're building a story from practically nothing. For that story to be built, the players have to agree to the basic situation and set-up. The who, what, and where have to be developed and mutually supported for a scene to work.
By saying yes, they accept the reality created by their stage partners and begin the collaborative process from the start of a scene. This matters. If someone playing a little kid says "I just washed my new hover board" and the other player says "ummm, don't you mean your bike?" well, the scene is over. The audience is now watching an unbelievable scene and they're out. If the player had said "Check mine out!" and while attempting to stand on it kept falling off, the audience is in and off they go!
They team up and create what's called a" group mind". By combining their efforts, each player allows themselves to be put in situations that they would normally avoid. And when out of that comfort and safety of the ego, the scene takes off.
Back at a post-show gathering, I was sitting at a table drinking cocktails with a new friend (one of the players) when I looked back over my shoulder at the group, again, laughing their asses off. I said "There's something to this. There's a reason this group works so well." We both stared at them for a moment and then I turned back to her, sat up tall, slapped my hand on the table and exclaimed "Yes, and! That's exactly what it is! You guys practice over and over NOT denying anything said to you! You literally learn to never tell someone they're wrong. Holy crap!" Her eyes got big and she said "Oh man, that makes sense!" and with that, we called over some of our friends and had a group discussion over my revelation. This made sense to them as well. A few of them mentioned tough relationships being a little better since they'd gotten good on stage.
Years and a million conversations later, I still struggle to get as good at this as they were. But there is massive power within this concept. Think of how many times someone has replied to your thoughts with "No....." and then told you why you're wrong. How often do you get only someones differing opinion in response to yours? How often do you collaborate without being told no?
When we share our beliefs and opinions and ideas with someone and are met with "Yes! And..." or "Huh! I hadn't thought of that. Here's what I'm thinking along those lines." there are channels that remain open. When we aren't shut down, we remain open to what we hear and are able to better consider it and actually DO something with it. Ideas, comedy, revelations, connection; these all come from that openness. That table of friends were experiencing some of the most open, hilarious discussion because not one of them was shutting anyone else down. Everyone felt safe and comfortable to let 'er rip! And they did it well!
This concept may be something you already understand but the greater "a ha" for me was the enormous potential of what can be created and experienced collectively when more than 1 person is aware of this. When it's a group, it's off the damn charts!
We don't have to ACTUALLY agree with someone's thoughts or opinions when practicing "Yes, and", we simply need to try and avoid telling them they're wrong in order to share our own. It does nothing but serve our own ego and give us a false sense of being stronger and smarter at the expense of someone else. It's a bad habit.
So, what do you do when you disagree or have the urge to tell someone they're wrong?
Here's what doesn't work:
No. No way that's true.
You seriously think that?
What? I don't think so.
No! (and then telling what you think)
Wrong! I read this article that said.....
Nope! I know because (and then make yourself an expert)
Here's what works:
I enjoy hearing these perspectives because I'm a (profession) and I've learned.....
I never considered it that way. I think....
Really? Interesting. (without being condescending) And what about.....?
Hmm. I'm not sure I agree. Tell me what you think about.... (look for more information)
Now that is a unique perspective! (without sounding sarcastic)
I still catch myself needing to make someone wrong in order to be right. It happens easily when they have the habit of saying NO and I fall right into it. But what is that really? That's me wanting to be seen, and heard, and valued for who I am. And when do I find myself doing that most? When I'm with someone who doesn't seem to "get" me. We all know what it feels like to have someone not get you at all and you feel off your game. You watch yourself and wonder why the hell you are doing this or that. You question them and yourself. It's uncomfortable. And we've all experienced the ease of being with those who seems to totally get us, even if we've just met. They allow us to be ourselves, are full of Yes and it's just.....awesome.
Disagreements and informative debate have great places in our society, but aren't your bread and butter if the ultimate goal is to connect or create. If you want to get better in THOSE moments, practice with people who value and respect you. Then consider trying "Yes, and" with those you tend to have disagreements with. See if it helps you to learn more from and about that person. See if you feel better when connecting with them, emotionally or analytically. See if you can help create a better "group mind" experience.
Listen, consider, learn, share, and please, whatever you do, find a way to LAUGH!
By Allison Barnard ACC, CPC
Allison Barnard is a Certified Wellness Coach ( ICF), Interior Design Consultant, and owner of Larkspur Wellness. She offers women's retreats, virtual interior design sessions, contract and contract-free coaching sessions, and online courses. She regularly contributes to Larkspur's blog and resides in Bend, OR. If you're interested in a session with Allison, visit: http://www.larkspurwellness.com/coaching