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The 'Yes, and' concept

Despite being a comedy technique, says Sophie Herdman, 'Yes, and' is a useful trick for everyone to learn

Have you heard of the ‘Yes, and’ concept? It’s a technique used in improvisational comedy, a pretty self-explanatory notion – you simply agree, and then add comment (watch Paul Merton on Have I Got News For You, he uses it a lot). Viv Groskop, Observer columnist and stand-up comedian, introduced the concept at the Editorial Intelligence ‘Thought for the Day’ breakfast this morning. James Forsyth, political editor of The Spectator, and Walter Schwarz, retired foreign correspondent and author of novel The Ideal Occupation, joined Viv, to give their (guess what?) thought for the day. James considered what the Chris Huhne situation told us about the coalition (we learned that David Cameron can fire members of the cabinet, but it is Nick Clegg who chooses the new Lib Dem cabinet minister) and Walter reflected on a different age of journalism, when hacks didn’t serve digital requests around the clock.

But it was the ‘Yes, and’ concept that threaded in and out of the morning’s talk. It’s a way of adding something to a conversation, said Viv, making it flow more easily. Never simply agree with someone, she advised, agree and add something. It also keeps us on our toes, she said, and promotes creativity.

James looked at the ‘Yes, and’ concept within the coalition government. It’s a useful negotiation tool, highlighting for both sides where disagreements lie. ‘In a coalition government, you need to spot common ground,’ said James. It’s beneficial to accept that you understand the other party’s position, then show how far you go in agreement.

Speaking with a Portuguese member of the audience after the talk, she told me that the ‘Yes, and’ concept was not new to her. ‘When I was learning to speak English, we were taught to use it in difficult situations, such as parents making a complaint about a school,’ she said. ‘Never say “no, but” — that is rude.’

So, as it turns out, the ‘Yes, and’ concept extends beyond the Comedy Store. Why not try it today — in the next conversation you have. When someone says a statement you agree with, don’t simply agree, use the ‘and’ — see where it takes you.