Last Friday I held a brown bag about some brilliant little exercises I learned from @lucidplot organizer of dareconf. The goal is to allow a group to experience how different attitudes and only slightly different reactions by a listener can completely change a conversation. The exercises are borrowed from improv theater. Here one basic principle exists. Each actor has to accept the contribution of her predecessor and add onto it to allow the improv to continue flowing. It is called “yes and”. Through the following two exercises I want to describe how a group can experience how using “yes and” or not using “yes and” changes atmosphere and therefore the ability to make progress as a group. No matter if in a meeting or in a one on one situation.
The first exercises simply plays with yes and no. Imagine you and a friend are planning a picknick. The first person starts to suggest items to take along. The second person is instructed to say no – but not only no but really dismiss the idea as if it it was a really awful idea. So for example I suggest to take a bottle of wine and the second person dismisses the idea loudly whilst telling me what a horrible idea that is. That alcohol is dangerous and the glas bottle is a threat for children in the park and so on. Then the second person suggests an item and I need to dismiss the idea just as vigorously. Encourage the participants to act strongly and get loud and emotional if they like to.
After two minutes you change the instructions. Now the second person shall accept the idea but only reluctantly. Back to the wine example. The second person now would answer something like – ok if you really want your wine take it *sigh*.
Now it is time for yes. After another two minutes instructions are changed again. Now the answer is always yes. Here we go with enthusiastically positive answers right away. Encourage the group to get creative by kicking things of with a stupid example. For example I suggest to take a whole wedding cake and the second person joins enthusiastically by claiming wedding cakes are the one and only real picknick food and always need to be there.
Afterwards have a little feedback session of which part of the exercises felt best. What were the differences. Today as actually most of the time we agreed that the last round was most fun and came up with the most awesome, crazy ideas.
The second exercise is around travel planning. Again pairs of two. Imagine you are planning to go travelling together but have not yet agreed on any detail. No location, no way of travelling, beach, city, adventure holiday everything is possible. So the first person starts with a suggestion: “I’d like to go to Paris”. The second person now has to answer and add an suggestion of herself which fits the first suggestion. “Oh yes we should climb the Eiffel Tower.” Then it is the first person’s turn again. “Oh please can we take the elevator I hate walking stairs.” Here the “yes and” comes into full play. The second person has to listen carefully and to act upon what has already been said. Again after a couple of minutes reflect what that felt like.
In the end reflect about the whole thing and think about how that experience reflects more day to day experiences like work meetings.
I have used that as part of longer workshops about listening techniques and how to improve meetings as well as just as an icebreaker at the beginning of a workshop about a totally unrelated topic.
What is your experience? Have you done similar things?
I’d like to hear from you if you try it out.