Monday, April 28, 2008

"Yes, and."

This is just sort of a general rumination on what some people call "constructive discourse/action."

In improv theatre, or certain acting exercises in regular theatre, we used to have this trope called “Yes, and.”

Yes and…” is about accepting the premise that someone has made an offer. You can use that as a starting point….then either:

* Build on it — adding your ideas, perspective, etc.
* Add a twist or new angle…
* Deepen it…and engage…..with a question, hypothesis, emotion, etc.
* Or if you must ‘reject it’ - start by first acknowledging the ‘offer’ and the inherent good parts (come on….there’s something you can find!)

How it works in an improv context, for example: someone says,

“I went to the store yesterday,”

and you say, “Yes, and you bought a can of peas.”

and they say, “Yes, and there was a peculiar mark on the outside of the can,”

and you say, “Yes, and i noticed it was the same as the one I found on the inside of my wrist this morning…”

and from there you build a story.

Or, whatever, not a wonderful example; point is, it’s different to going,

“I went to the store yesterday.”

“No you didn’t, you went to the circus.”

…because that just sort of makes it grind to a halt. And you might have had the best of intentions: oh, shit, the store, that’s boring, let’s go somewhere more exciting! but in fact, it’s better to just go with whatever it is and -add.- And if it sucks at the end of it, as it often does: hey, you start something else.


PhysioProf said...

That's very cool!

I also really like "both, and" as a response to someone who is attempted to shoehorn a complex analysis into some sort of false dichotomy.

Example: "Should we improve the overall quality of our junior faculty hires, or should we focus on increasing the number of women faculty in our program?"

Both, and!!

(Can you tell I've been serving on a faculty search committee?)

Anonymous said...

With the second one, the "yes, and" works well, because after "I went to the store" you can have, "yes, and then you went to the circus".

Of course, if you get a string of "yes, and then I went back to the store", "yes, and then you went back to the circus", then something's not right!

Which seems to me to be the way some debates go in feminism, too.

Brooklynite said...

Excellent. I did a brief stint in improv a few years ago, and I've found myself invoking the "yes, and" principle over and over again these last few days.

It really does make having hard conversations a whole hell of a lot easier.

(And it doesn't, by the way, mean you have to agree with everything the person you're talking with says. It means you'll be well served by searching out points of agreement, and by phrasing disagreements in as generous and non-adversarial way as possible.)

belledame222 said...

hey, welcome, brooklynite!

SDE, just speaking strictly of improv, ime you -can- do that, but generally it's better to go with the original suggestion, at least for a while.

belledame222 said...

...right, as you're saying: that's actually a technical dodge where you'd effectively be "no, but"-ing without using the actual words. it'd still stonewall you.

Sassywho said...

gah, i need to finish my work for this semester, i really do. but this touched a soft spot of mine. i love improv and dated a guy who called me his "yes... and".

back to my hole now.

belledame222 said...


J. Goff said...

I like the Office episode where Michael Scott goes to improv class and, in every improv scenario, he pulls a gun and starts shooting people. Yeah, that's a good summary of "constructive discourse" for some people.

Brown Shoes said...

That was a classic example of how some people can manage to make everything about them or have to thrust themselves into the center of every scene.

UneFemmePlusCourageuse said...

I remember the first time I was in a theater setting where we were playing an improv game...not that one but a similar one in which there would be a 'scene' set up that you were supposed to improvise your way around...I had never done it before, and not all the rules had been explained to me, so when I was put into one where the other girl decided to accuse 'me' of stealing 'her' boyfriend, my immediate response was to say: "No I didn't!" which point the director got pissy. He was a pissy fellow, and generally led me to think: Yes, I suck at improv.

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