The key is to say yes. So if one person says, “Gee, it is hot in here,” and the other says, “No, it isn't,” the improv story is over. But if the person responds with “Yes, and maybe we should get out of the pizza oven,” then the dialogue goes on.
The same is true for parenting, coaching and doctoring. In parenting, if your high school student asks to go the concert on a school night and you say no, the conversation is over and they might sneak out the window anyhow. Consider an alternative approach, responding instead with “Yes, and let's figure out a way to get your homework done and get you there and back in time for sleep. Maybe I can drive you and pick you up rather than you leaving early with your friends so you can do both.”
Now you and your child are on the same team. If you start parenting with “Yes, and …” very early in life, kids will always know that they can come to you with all kinds of requests and you will try to help them. In essence, you respect their desires and are teaming up to help with their decision-making. In saying no, you demean their desires and judgment even while you are trying to provide discipline. The limits are clear. Saying no to certain requests is obviously required. However, all people will do dangerous things in life. We try to teach the judgment of how to do dangerous things safely, and successfully. To do that, kids need to know that parents are on their team. Responding with “Yes, and …” makes you teammates.
This applies directly to sports coaching as well. We don't want to create automaton athletes. We want them to think for themselves and sometimes to think outside of the box. We want them to take risks, but it will be far more successful if the risk-taking is well thought out. To do that, “Yes, and …” needs to be the response to athlete input early on in team development. Respecting their ideas, their creativity and their vision of how to play the game builds both great teammates and individual superstars. It works because they benefit from the coaching input early in the formation of their athletic minds and they develop the trust that comes with believing in their coach and being unafraid of pitching wild ideas.
Doctoring requires the same approach. Telling patients “No, you can't do this and you can't do that,” leads to unhappy patients who don't heal as well as the patients you tell “Yes, and …”
For the injured knee patient, instead of “No, you can't exercise,” saying “Yes, let's figure out a way that you can keep fit while healing your injured knee,” leads to more rapid healing. The “Yes, and …” school of medicine finds creative ways to help people achieve their goals and inspires people to set new ones. Whether it is the cardiac injured patient, the patient with arthritis, or a patient with cancer, avoiding the older recommendations that have been psychologically depressing is the first step, finding the keys that empower the patient to use their injury or disease to spur them on to become fitter, faster and stronger than they have been in years is the second step to bonding with your patient for a lifetime of health and fitness.
Try just saying “Yes, and …” and thank Tina Fey for bringing more than just laughter into our lives.
Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco. He pioneers advanced orthopedic surgical and rehabilitation techniques to repair, regenerate and replace damaged cartilage and ligaments. For more info, visit www.stoneclinic.com.