Have you ever been in a conversation where every suggestion you made was met with, ‘yes, but...’?
The person you are speaking to is pretending to say yes, but they stopped listening a few seconds after you started talking. Healthy conflict in business is good, but conflict disguised as a polite ‘yes, but...’ is a blocker for any decisions and brings confusion into the room.
Here are six ways to overcome the ‘but’.
Find a partner – someone you work with, your life partner, your friend, or your child. Tell them you are going to play a game. You begin by saying to your partner, ‘Shall we go out for dinner tonight?’ For the rest of the conversation you and your partner must ALWAYS start the next sentence with ‘Yes, but...’ It means they agree with you but then they find a problem.
‘Shall we go out for dinner tonight?’
‘Yes, but I have a meeting that is going to go on all evening.’
‘Yes, but I have just spoken to your boss and they have decided to cancel it.’
‘Yes, but I really needed to speak to him.’
‘Yes, but he is actually getting on a plane at dinner time so you can’t.’
‘Yes, but I need some “me” time.’
‘Yes, but during dinner I can be very quiet and give you that “me” time.’
This time, every response has to begin with ‘Yes, and...’
‘Shall we go out to dinner tonight?’
‘Yes, and let’s go to a club afterwards.’
‘Yes, and we’ll dance for ages and then we’ll be really hungry.’
‘Yes, and then we can go to kebab shop and get two huge doner kebabs.’
‘Yes, and then we will be so full of energy we’ll go for a 10k hike up the local mountain.’
‘Yes, and let’s build a hut near the top and light a fire and watch the stars.’
It doesn’t matter where the game goes, it simply must keep going. At some point I always end up dancing and going to the moon where Elon Musk is having dinner with a cow...
When I did this exercise this week, one of the participants said: ‘When you say, “Yes, but...” you are getting ready to counter-argue. It ends up being about you. But when you say “Yes, and...” you are doing active listening.’
What did you notice about how the conversation flowed or got blocked, and how you feel about yourself and the other person?
This is not a cute game – it is a way in to a different mindset. Find something you need a solution to, and try saying ‘Yes, and...’ as you discuss it. This feels counter-intuitive, so start safe by expressing your desire – ‘I would like to do X.’ See how far you get.
The only opposite to ‘Yes’ should be ‘No’. This reveals what you really feel. Adding a ‘Yes’ and a ‘No’ at the right time – after you have listened – will drive the story in the right direction.
‘But’ just gets you playing political games and gets you stuck.
It is so easy to say ‘but’. It is the default in business. So you have to create a new culture – a culture of ‘Yes, and...’ or ‘No’.
Play the game again, then take it to business again, 24 hours later. Notice the barriers – they are your habits. Be willing to push through the barriers and you will be surprised and delighted.
Don’t give up. Keep going and not only will you defeat the big ‘but’, you could just find something new!