Yes, And

“I have a new idea about your project.”

“I am questioning your thinking.”

“Can I offer you some feedback?”

It’s hard to be fully present in a conversation when your first response is an emotional one. Resistance can be strong. We make judgments before we’ve fully heard the idea, the end of the question, and/or all the feedback. We move quickly to explain all the reasons the input is bad or wrong and advocate for our own point of view. We defend our way with all the logic and rationale we can muster.

There are behaviors that, with practice, can develop the agility to short circuit our immediate emotional response.

Sense: Where do you feel your reactions in your body? Does your chest tighten? Your stomach flips? Do your teeth clench? Does your back go up, literally? Notice these visceral responses in your body. What do they signal?

Acknowledge: Name for yourself, and maybe for others, that you are having an emotional response. Does the tightening of your chest indicate the presence of a threat? Does your queasy stomach suggest that you are afraid? Are your teeth clenched in preparation for battle? Acknowledge what is happening in your thoughts and in your body.

Yes, And: Once you’ve acknowledged your immediate reaction, what else can you invite? Use this well-worn improvisation technique to move past the difficult emotion. YES, I am feeling challenged, AND I can learn more before reacting. YES, I am afraid my world might change, AND change can make things better. The Yes, And technique helps us move from certainty to possibility.

Listen: What if, rather than building your defense as soon as a new idea has been introduced, your only job was to fully understand the idea? Try listening as if your next task was to present this new idea to someone important. What are the key details that you must understand to represent this new idea?

Ask: Invite your innate curiosity to join you in this conversation. What do you want to know more about? What needs to be clarified? Who will be affected by this idea? What would be possible if this idea was enacted? Ask open-ended questions – ones that can’t be answered with a yes or no – to ensure a full understanding of the idea being presented to you.

This sequence of behaviors offers a tried-and-true way to vet your initial emotional response. Once you sense and acknowledge what you feel, you can move through it to investigate the possibility that is being presented to you. Rather than defending or judging, allow your curiosity to lead you to a fuller understanding. You create space for the presenter to share fully and with greater ease and you give yourself the time you need to make decisions based on more robust information. You create a win-win situation for all involved.


Christine Strong is Chief of Staff and Coach for The TAI Group. Chris partners with leaders and teams to discover higher levels of clarity, focus, and action by uncovering the sources of guidance, alignment, and motivation that lie within them.

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