March 5, 2024


Arts Fanatics

The Powerful Difference Between Saying "Yes And" and "Yes But"

In improv comedy, there is a concept called ‘yes and.’ ‘Yes and’ is a two part idea. The first part being that no matter what you say or do, I am going to say ‘yes’ to you, thereby accepting whatever you have offered. The second part is that I will add what I want to say by saying ‘and,’ thereby building off of what you said. As an exercise, two performers can have a scene where everything they say has to start with the words, ‘yes and.’ First time performers struggle with this as the concept of agreeing and working with someone else is relatively foreign to them.

The opposite of ‘yes and’ is ‘yes but.’ The first part of this concept is exactly the same as ‘yes and,’ where no matter what you say I will say ‘yes.’ In the second part, I will say ‘but’ instead of ‘and.’ This one word difference has the dramatic effect of completely changing the discussion. ‘Yes and’ is a conversation; ‘yes but’ is an argument.

When you say ‘yes but’ your ‘yes’ is just lip service. What you are really saying is ‘yes I hear you, but I don’t care.’ If I am talking about something with you, we can both say the exact same phrase over and over again if we start with ‘yes but.’ (‘ I hate the beach!’ ‘Yes but I really want to go the beach today!’ ‘Yes, but I hate the beach!’- and on to infinity). ‘Yes and’ forces me to work with others and work toward positivity. (‘I hate the beach!’ ‘Yes, and I think the park would be a better choice!’ ‘Yes, and at the park we could play baseball!’ – and so on)

What is astonishing is how much easier the exercise is when you play it as ‘yes but.’ As people, we are far more conditioned to argue and dig our heels in than we are to accept and work together with others. Think about some arguments you regularly have. Chances are both parties are saying ‘yes but.’ Even if the words themselves aren’t literally said, the ‘yes but’ intention is most assuredly there.

‘Yes and’ is really a way of thinking. It opens up your mind, helps you listen, and creates a great supportive environment. Try it next time you are in a discussion, and see how it helps you out.