The Power of "Yes, and..."

Why trying to be devil's advocate all the time can be a pain

If you ask me, what makes a good team, I would simply answer, the degree in which you can align with each other, and build on each other’s ideas.

Some people call this “chemistry”. Some people call it “culture”. Some people call it “cohesion”. I would agree. Specifically, in my opinion, the number of times you build on top of each other’s ideas, simultaneously taking a bit of risk but trusting that into the the process.

I’ve had a time when one of my team members was perceived as “constantly throwing a spanner to the wheel”. What this means is that this person constantly pushed the panic buttons in the team, by continually challenging in a negative way. Of course, a different perspective is always appreciated but doing it constantly without trusting the process and taking a bit of risk in letting things go as planned, could derail the team motivation.

It becomes worse when one is a leader. Anything you say to the team that is perceived a constant disagreement or re-direction, would render you being disagreeable. When you are a leader, people look up to you for direction, and it’s possible that they might just listen to you and follow you out of fear.

I think of this degree of alignment through the lens of how often the team use the word “yes, and…”, in spirit, and literally.

The word “yes, and…” is a powerful connector and idea builder. It allows you to think more positively and thoroughly about the other party’s intent, trust the intent, and try to build upon the intent. Whereas if you say, “no, but” or even “yes, but” you’re mentally ending and dismissing the intent even if you don’t intend to do it.

Imagine this conversation.


“Hey, let’s use design option A.”

“Yes, and we can probably put some ideas from design option B, as some of them test well with users.”

Compare it to:


“Hey, let’s use design option A.”

“Yes, but how about some from option B that test well?”

Same outcome — they probably will end up design option A, with some design option B elements, but mentally, it’s different. The “yes, and” brings more positivity, while the “yes, but” feels like you’re having a mental barrier.

This kind of conversation can also kill potential interaction. Imagine this:

Hey, let’s use design option A.”

Yes, but that’s not the priority for now.”

This kills the conversation. Imagine if the answer was:

Yes, and I think we can potentially try to prioritise A for today and try B tomorrow, so that we can focus. What do you think?”

It creates a whole new dimension of opportunity to talk, and make the other party feel appreciated, hence increasing the opportunity for alignment.

Now, you might ask — what if I disagree? What if I’m the lead, and I need to demonstrate my authority (just kidding).

Yes you can do this. If you disagree or want to challenge, you can use:

“Yes, I think this is a possible idea, and I would also like to see more explorations in A, B & C.”

“Yes, I think this is a possible direction, another way I would love to challenge this is…”

Building alignment is hard, in an increasingly complex world and product, but it could start with the way we communicate to each other. It might not work all the time or you might not be consciously making this effort, but try some of the days and you’ll see how it works wonder.

Photo from Unsplash