Two Words to Lead By

Two Words to Lead By

Suffer from an empty suggestion box or lack of creative solutions in your organization?

The solution may be found in two little words!

Recently at the Pioneer Network Conference I had the pleasure of attending Karen Stobbe’s session on improv. Karen taught the technique of using the words “Yes and…” when caring for residents with dementia.

Just as actors do in improv, the idea is to accept what another person tells you with a “Yes, and….”. For example, if a resident with dementia states in distress, “I need to get my children to school,” the reply might be, “Yes, and what time do they usually start class?”


The goal is to listen to the other person’s ideas, accept them and build upon them. To cooperate and collaborate instead of negating.

Simple, but powerful!

Now imagine the difference if every time a staff member interacted with their supervisor, that they were greeted with a “Yes and…”  Envision their frustrations accepted and their ideas supported.

Talk about culture change! Does it get any more person-centered?

Unfortunately, in my experience more people are experts in the “Yes, BUT….” technique. “Yes that’s a good idea, BUT we can’t do that because we don’t have the money.” Or my personal favorite, “Yes it’s not perfect here, BUT at least you have a job.”

When another person’s idea is negated, the flow of creativity is immediately blocked. As a result, many innovative ideas never make it to the surface. 

Follow the vital rule of improvisational theatre:  never reject another person’s words. STOP when you are about to say “No”. Instead start with “Yes, and…”

Support other’s ideas and encourage more of them by:

•   Listening fully to the idea or thought that someone brings to you.

•   Affirming what the person is sharing with a “Yes, and” or similar words.

•   Building upon the information they shared.

•   Creating a flow of ideas to move forward with the idea.

Saying “Yes” doesn’t mean you are agreeing with every person and their ideas. In fact, it is a great tool to get differing views out in the open!


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