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Faculty Insights

Don't Be Afraid to Break This Family Tradition

By Sherry Herwig

May 22, 2017

People exclaiming "Yes"
Have you heard of the “Yes, and…” technique? I learned it recently at a comedy improvisation workshop. It’s a simple way to accept and build on another person’s ideas. It disrupts negativity and allows for more creative, innovative thinking in a way that can improve human interactions.
Say “Yes, but …” Can you feel the negativity compared to saying, “Yes, and …”? Perhaps you’re thinking “Yes, but I don’t have time for this funny business—get to the point!”
The point is that listening and being fully present in the moment is crucial to the success of communication. Thinking about what you are going to say next instead of being fully focused on what someone else is saying is a missed opportunity.
How to Improve Communication in the Workplace

Sherry Herwig
Sherry Herwig, Director of the Wisconsin School of Business Family Business Center

So what does this have to do with family owned businesses? Everything! Communication is consistently named one of the top challenges for family owned business. Family dynamics, family history, old patterns, you name it, can creep into a family business and create a barrier to successful communication.
“Yes, and…” could be just the thing to break that barrier. It encourages people to make a suggestion or share an idea without fear of being criticized or worse yet, ignored, because “yes” is a built-in acknowledgment of what someone just said. With the added benefits of building trust, acceptance, and a positive environment, it seems like giving these two little words a try has minimal risk and the potential for great rewards.
Try This Approach
Get a work group into pairs or a small team. Start by having one person say a statement or an idea and have the next person reply “Yes, but…” and continue the conversation. Keep this going for about 30-45 seconds.
Now try it using “Yes, and…” The first person says a statement or an idea and the next person replies with “Yes, and…” Again, do this for 30-45 seconds.
Right away, you should be able to feel and sense the difference in the energy. Instead of negating someone’s idea right away, “Yes, and…” opens up the conversation and communicates engagement.
Start by using this exercise just for fun at your next family meeting or gathering. You can include the whole family, and all ages will be able to do it. Then try it in the workplace, perhaps as a primer for a meeting or planning session. “Yes, and…” can make a positive difference in your family and work environment by reminding us to fully listen, accept an idea or suggestion first, and then build on it.
Sherry Herwig is director of the University of Wisconsin Family Business Center.