Conversations are one of the best ways to connect with other people and build relationships. Those who know how to keep a conversation going (provided the the conversation is welcome) are great at making connections and building relationships. Also, these people tend to bring joy to the lives of others. When looking at how to keep a conversation going, you may consider listening, empathy, thinking on your feet, being interesting, etc. Don’t worry about each of these BECAUSE ALL of it can be covered in one simple rule:
This rule, or guideline, is an acting rule that comes from the world of improvisational theatre (or improv for short). In a nutshell, improv is acting without a script. On stage, actors make up character and scenarios on the spot collaboratively and create entertaining stories together. The only way that this is possible is through Yes-And. Yes-And is the fundamental rule of improv. I first really learned about Yes-And about 5 years ago at a Comedy Sportz workshop and it changed my life. Conversations were not too difficult for me and love meeting new people. But, I have never been so intentionally good at keeping a conversation going until Yes-And.
Yes-And keeps an improv scene going and it is one of the BEST ways to keep conversations going. Yes-And keeps you engaged in the conversation, it keeps you interested in what the other person is saying, and it works to build a conversation that connects both of the people involved. Furthermore, Yes-And is one of the most fulfilling ways to interact with someone. Best friends tend to operate in Yes-And most of the time and people who are naturals at how to keep a conversation going are using Yes-And on a continual basis.
So what is Yes-And?! And how to keep a conversation going with it.
The breakdown is as follows:
YES: Acknowledge what the other person said
AND: Add to what the other person said
In a recent Podcast episode about presentations and conversations I said in regards to the core fundamentals of communication, “You want to make sure that your audience will be able to receive your message. You also want your audience to be able to do something with your message.” This same exact principle goes for keeping a conversation going. Except this time you are on the receiving end. You acknowledge you have received the message (YES), and you do something with it (AND).
Yes-And in action on stage
In order to see Yes-And in it’s purest form, I will show you how it works in improv comedy. This will help you get familiar with the Yes-And rule, so we can start applying it to conversations. A scene may go like this:
Logan: (running onto stage to meet Gene) “My house is on fire and Fido is inside!“
Using the Yes-And rule Gene responds.
Gene: “Oh no! We must call the fire department and get Fido out!“
Saying, “Oh no!” acknowledges that what Logan had said is true. After that she adds to Logan’s conversation. Now Logan would need to use Yes-And to progress the scene even further. Logan cannot discount or discredit Gene’s suggestion. Instead, Logan must acknowledge Gene’s suggestion AND call the fire department or add to the scene some other way.
Logan: (pulling out a cell phone) “Hello? Fire department? My house is on fire at the corner of 21st and Vine!” (he faints)
Calling the fire department is the YES part. Giving the home address is the AND part.
Gene: (grabbing the phone) “Come quick, someone’s life is at stake!” (Gene then slaps Logan awake) “Let’s go! There is no time for sleeping!“
Picking up the phone to carry on the conversation and slapping Logan is the YES part because it acknowledges that Logan has indeed fainted. Saying, “Let’s go!” is the AND part. Both actors exit the scene. Yes-And successfully allowed us to have an engaging back and forth collaborative scene. Wow.
This scene was NOT a real conversation. However, for real conversations, Yes-And can be used just as effectively, if not better.
A real world example of how to keep a conversation going
Jimmy arrives 10 minutes early for a job interview with Mr. Johnson at a customer service center for Apple. Landing this interview would be his first step to getting his dream job as an executive at Apple. Jimmy is feeling pretty good about the interview. He’s been studying up on customer service and has prepared a few questions to impress his hopefully future boss, Mr. Johnson.
“How do you do?” Mr. Johnson extends out his hand to shake Jimmy’s hand.
Shaking Mr. Johnson’s hand Jimmy responds, “Great! You have a nice office here. I like the photograph of Mount Everest.” Notice how Jimmy used Yes-And. He acknowledged the question by saying, “Great!” The YES part is easy to remember. But we often tend to forget the AND part. Jimmy is doing wonderful with Yes-And so far because he added to the conversation by mentioning the Mount Everest photograph.
Mr. Johnson grinning, “Me too. That was given to me by my grandfather. It reminds me of how small my problems are compared to a great mountain like Everest.”
“Problems are tiny when you look at them with this comparison. You know, I have a similar picture hanging up in my room. It’s the Earth from outer space.” Jimmy responds. “It does the same thing for me.”
By acknowledging what Mr. Johnson is saying each time he speaks, Jimmy is building on Mr. Johnson’s previous statement. Yes-And is doing more than solving how to keep a conversation going. It is making the conversation grow and blossom. If the conversation was to continue, Mr. Johnson may talk about always wanting to go to the moon. Then Jimmy may talk about years of writing letters to engineers at NASA, and so on. Thanks to Yes-And this conversation may develop into a friendship before the job interview even takes place.
Unfortunately this doesn’t happen very often. Most of those conversations go like this: Mr. Johnson – “How do you do?” Jimmy – “Fine.”
What might happen by incorporating Yes-And
If you start incorporating Yes-And into your conversations, a whole new world can open up to you. One full of new opportunities. A world where you are making friends more quickly and building relationships seamlessly. Yes-And has made a huge impact on my life, and I believe it can do the same for you.
It doesn’t have to be rocket science either. You can literally say, “Yes, and…”
Grocery store clerk: “You chose a great day to shop. We have these candy bars on sale for 50 cents!“
Samuel: “Yes, and they look absolutely delicious! Unfortunately I don’t eat candy.“
Grocery store clerk: “Well at least you have a good attitude about it! Come back any time.“
Samuel: “Yes, and I’ll be looking forward to it!”
It’s that easy. I encourage you to explore the wonderful world of improv through this fundamental rule: Yes-And. And then shoot me a message and let me know how your conversations are going. Also if you have any tips to add about how to keep a conversation going, I’d love to hear them.