How often did you say, “yes, but” today? If you are like most people in the Western culture, then I guess you said it quite often. We like to say it because it helps us to stay in our comfort zones. When we say “Yes, but” then what we basically mean is “No.” It’s our automatic defensive reaction against potential change. No change means we can stay in our comfort zones.

The problem with this defensive reaction is that it blocks not only innovation but can also be very annoying for others. There is a nice exercise that you can try out with a partner. Set yourselves a goal like planning a vacation. One of you starts with a suggestion where to go. The other person starts her reaction with “yes, but…” Then for a couple of minutes both persons must always start their replies with “yes, but.” What you can usually observe is that you will get stuck quickly and, in the end, there won’t be any satisfying idea where to go on vacation.

There is a way out of this dilemma, though. A solution that is so simple that it actually works. The only thing you have to do is to replace the “Yes, but…” with “Yes, and…” The effect is amazing! Instead of the blocking reaction there will be openness that can easily make both parties feel satisfied and also produce valuable results. What comes out is not just the idea of a single person but a bigger idea that is often better and, most importantly, supported by both participants.

You can try it out yourself with another simple exercise. It’s basically the same game as before. Together with your partner you try to plan a vacation again. This time, however, you don’t start your responses with “Yes, but…” but with “Yes, and…” Do it for a couple of minutes and you will be impressed about the outcome!

After I first did those exercises at an improvisational theater training, I was impressed how often people actually say “Yes, but…” And I was also kind of shocked how often I said it. I felt like changing this small behavior might really make a huge impact. So, after the training I told my wife to remind me every time she catches me saying “yes, but…” It was very funny in the beginning because I said it at least a million times each day. But quickly I started anticipating those evil words before speaking them out loud and I was able to actively turn it around. Today I never say “Yes, but” anymore. This doesn’t mean that I always agree. I’m still free to say “no”. But I first think about a “Yes, and…” option and usually I find one. Opening up with this little rhetorical trick did not only create valuable opportunities in my live but also let to richer relationships both privately and professionally.

I encourage you to try it yourself! Find a way to become aware of your “buts” and replace them with “ands”. As soon as you do it you will see the magic happen!